TWO clubs fighting it out to desperately avoid slipping down into a play-off, players battling for contracts and their very livelihoods.

A couple of weeks ago, had you predicted the setting for a winner-takes-safety relegation showdown, it would surely have been Firhill.

Instead, while the nerves jangled in the bigger stands of Leith and living rooms of Kilmarnock, Partick Thistle and Ross County played out a fixture that was for them wonderfully free of high tension.

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That is not to say that nothing was at stake. County's timewasting after taking the lead was proof enough of that. The difference between finishing seventh and 10th, where Thistle eventually ended up?

"It's not far off £200k probably," sighed Alan Archibald, the home side's manager. "The other side of the coin is that we never had it before, so we never lost it. It'll have an effect, it'll be an extra player; it might be a player with a bit more quality,

"We can't dwell on it, we've had a good season, we've played some good stuff. If we'd been offered 10th we would have grabbed it without a doubt. But when you have that carrot sitting in front of you for seventh place with the status it brings, we're bitterly disappointed to miss out."

That disappointment, you feel, will fade on the sun loungers of some Spanish hotel. The supporters who flooded on to the pitch after the match seemed to have already forgotten, striding across the turf to revel in one last moment before a long summer of football-free Saturday afternoons.

The match itself was, in many ways, a fitting end to Firhill's season. Five goals, slick attacking play to cheer, a fightback and, yet, ultimately, another defeat at home. Sometimes fortune favours the brave, but it usually favours those who can defend set-pieces. Two classy, well-worked Thistle goals were worthless after they conceded three times.

Melvin de Leeuw had only been on the pitch for a couple of minutes when he made the decisive contribution. Turning inside Lyle Taylor, the Dutchman fired in a shot that took a deflection off James Craigen. County had barely threatened in the second half, content to sit on their lead until Thistle fought back. "Seventh makes a big difference," said Derek Adams, the County manager. "The people at the club will be happy because the players have made more money for them. They can go on their deckchairs and not worry about it."

The home side were already two goals down when they scored their first. A free-flowing passing move - typical of the fare these fans have been used to - ended with the atypical flourish of a Thistle striker actually sticking the ball in the back of the net. Taylor's powerful header from Christie Elliot's cross flew past Mark Brown. Steven Lawless drew a save from Brown with a 20-yard effort, before the hosts struck again: Taylor's back heel set George Moncur up perfectly and he finished into the far corner. It was not enough.

County had earlier taken the initiative, as Thistle started sluggishly. Jordan Slew missed an opportunity early on, but made better work of a second. Shrugging off Conrad Balatoni - "it was a stonewall foul," said Archibald - he finished low past Scott Fox for his very first goal on the very last day of his loan spell.

The Thistle goalkeeper, on his return to the side, had to be replaced by Paul Gallacher after colliding with Slew. Fox left for hospital, with Archibald concerned about his ankle. His replacement could do nothing about County's second, Graham Carey swinging ball to the back post where Yoann Arquin headed his side two goals in front.

There was no despair at the final whistle. At the start of any top-flight campaign, the team that has just been promoted is invariably favourite to go back down. Even with Hearts' troubles, Thistle have beaten the odds.

"I've thoroughly enjoyed it," Archibald said. "I've made mistakes, so have the players and we've learned from them. We move on. It's important we do that, sit back over the summer and reflect on the season it's been. We know how hard it's going to be. We need to strengthen and move on."