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Partick Thistle 1 Kilmarnock 1: Late rebound turns up heat in battle to avoid play-off

IT is getting tight towards the bottom of the SPFL Premiership, very tight indeed.

Robbie Muirhead celebrates after scoring a rebound  off Kris Boyd's saved penalty to equalise in injury time. Picture: SNS
Robbie Muirhead celebrates after scoring a rebound off Kris Boyd's saved penalty to equalise in injury time. Picture: SNS

The race to avoid finishing second bottom - and its accompanying relegation play-off spot - might not sound like the most glamorous of struggles but it is heating up nicely.

Partick Thistle occupy the hotseat, although should they win their rearranged game against St Johnstone tomorrow by two goals they will shoot up to eighth in the table, dunting Ross County back into 11th and bumping St Mirren and Kilmarnock down a notch as well.

The four in jeopardy each have 11 matches to play before the split and it promises to be a fascinating if somewhat fear-fuelled contest. Thistle should have given themselves a bit of breathing space on Saturday but, for the 11th time in the league this season, they could not win at home.

Kilmarnock were the lucky ones to wriggle off the hook this time around, Allan Johnston's side securing an injury-time equaliser when Robbie Muirhead slotted in his first senior goal after Paul Gallacher had saved Kris Boyd's penalty.

This must be a good time to be a therapist in the Maryhill area of Glasgow, given Thistle's apparent issues with winning in front of their own fans. Scoring early, via Kallum Higginbotham's overhead kick, did little to settle the nerves either.

The previous weekend against Ross County, it had been poor defending that had let down Thistle. This time it was wayward finishing that was largely their undoing. Granted, Thistle did not create all that many chances on Saturday but when one, two, and then three slipped by, there seemed an inevitability about what was going to happen next. Kilmarnock, barely seen as an attacking force until late in the game, took full advantage.

"I found we were getting deeper as the clock ticked down but that's what happens in football when you start feeling the pressure," admitted midfielder Gary Fraser. "I felt if we'd stayed higher [up the park] and kept playing the way we had been playing we could have seen the game out. I thought we'd have held out so it was hard to take."

This was Fraser's first top-team appearance since August, his loan spell in the first half of the season marred by a nine-game suspension for attacking Dunfermline Athletic's Chris Kane in a reserve game.

That indiscipline did not deter Thistle from making the move permanent once the 19-year-old was released by Bolton Wanderers at the start of the month, with Fraser desperate to get back to Glasgow after being struck down by a bout of homesickness. "Going down to Bolton, training here and with everything else that's happened, I've learned from it," he said. "It will make me a better player because I know it won't happen again. I've grown up.

"I've been out for so long and I've realised what I've done. It won't happen again. I enjoyed it at Bolton. [Manager] Dougie Freedman was great with me. But I just couldn't stay away from home.

"My family are here, staying in the house as well. It definitely affects you when you haven't got that. I was going home to a hotel every night in Bolton. It's not the same. I play football better when I'm enjoying things."

Kilmarnock had youth prospects of their own to thank for earning a point. Greg Kiltie made a positive impression on the occasion of his 17th birthday after coming on at half-time, while it was another 17-year-old, Muirhead, who showed great awareness to follow up Boyd's penalty while the Thistle players were caught on their heels.

"When young Greg Kiltie came on I thought he was brilliant," said Craig Samson, the Kilmarnock goalkeeper. "It was his 17th birthday and the way he played - especially after the way the manager reacted at half-time - it had a massive impact for us.

"Of course there's going to be ups and downs with younger players. Over Christmas, Chris Johnston was probably our best player but the boy at right-back [Stephen O'Donnell] did very well against him.

"You've got to give the manager credit as he noticed it and put wee Kiltie on and he did great. That's the thing with young players - you might have to take them in and out.

"[Craig] Slater was great, as was Lee Ashcroft, Robbie who's scored the goal, and Willie Gros is still a young lad, too."

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