THE battle to avoid the relegation play-off place in the SPFL Premiership is a compelling contest but one which should perhaps be viewed from a safe distance.

A meeting between two of the combatants at Rugby Park yesterday produced a mix of controversy, bad blood and three potentially vital league points for Partick Thistle.

The result was celebrated wildly by their supporters as it lifted Alan Archibald's men out of 11th place and gave them a two-point cushion over its new occupants, Ross County.

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Thistle were quickly on the offensive on their arrival in Ayrshire. Craig Samson in the Kilmarnock goal was under fire early on, consecutive crosses leading to a header from Conrad Balatoni and a volley from James Craigen which struck the crossbar.

Kris Doolan then strode forward to shoot and Aaron Taylor-Sinclair clipped a low pass across the face of goal.

The onslaught drew a frown from Kilmarnock manager Allan Johnston. The mood within the home support darkened too, contrasting a bright Ayrshire sky.

A few more clouds appeared at the break as Alexei Eremenko was booked for a retaliatory lunge on Thistle's Kallum Higginbotham. It was a cynical foul but the Finn would likely protest that he had been kicked first.

Within eight minutes of the start of the second half Kilmarnock had put the boot in again, Vitalijs Maksimenko poking a shot into the net following a corner for the opening goal.

The Latvian took a moment to revel in a neat finish but the home side's lead did not last long. Four minutes Chris Erskine was fouled on the edge of the area and Higginbotham squeezed the free-kick low past Samson.

A win for St Mirren means Thistle remain boxed in towards the lower end of the bottom six, but they can take comfort from the knowledge that they have players in their squad capable of picking opposing defences. Among them is Taylor-Sinclair, who nodded in the decisive goal with just six minutes left.

"We showed great character to bounce back from their goal," said Thistle manager Alan Archibald. "It was vital we got the win and the boys showed a hunger, a desire from the off."

Kris Boyd has so often been the key for Kilmarnock. He would have as many sniffs at goal as a striker with hay fever yesterday, and suffered just as much agitation.

The 30-year-old was this week featured on the shortlist for the Premiership's Player of the Year but his name was mud yesterday, an early header landing on the roof of the net; a break into the box which was blocked by goalkeeper Paul Gallacher; a scuffed shot; an effort touched wide.

Boyd can be protected from harsher criticism by the strength of his statistics this season, since he has contributed 19 of his team's 42 league goals.

Kilmarnock would be hampered by a moment of controversial refereeing, too, with a long-range shot from Michael Gardyne after 58 minutes deflecting off the underside of the bar and appearing to bounce over the line before it was scrambled clear. Referee Brian Colvin glanced at his assistants but allowed both sides to batter on.

"It looked a goal from where I was and on the video it looks as though it crossed the line," said Kilmarnock manager Allan Johnston.

"These are massive decisions. I spoke to the referee and he said he looked to his linesman, who didn't give it. For him not to give it is a big decision."