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Partick Thistle 3 Hibernian 1: Upwardly mobile men happy to answer call

Kallum Higginbotham's post-match utterances were as ruthless as his performance had been on the Firhill pitch as he analysed the SPFL Premiership play-off possibilities.

Kallum Higginbotham celebrates his late goal. Picture:SNS
Kallum Higginbotham celebrates his late goal. Picture:SNS

At half-time it looked imperative that he and his Partick Thistle team-mates close out this victory just to avoid losing ground to St Mirren, who were leading Dundee United 2-0 at that stage.

Instead the Paisley side's second-half collapse allied to Thistle's win not only drew them clearer of danger, but hauled Saturday's opponents towards the brink. Higginbotham showed no inclination to sympathy over the day's significance.

"We built on the last win over Aberdeen. If we can just carry on what we're doing we can pull away from that play-off spot," said the man who had played a part in all three of his team's goals. "I've said all along that I've never been worried about where we're going to finish come the end of the season because I know what we've got in the dressing room and I see it every day on the training pitch, and you've seen it today. We've got a magnificent squad. Everyone's pulling in the same direction and that's what you need to be successful.

"St Mirren have taken a massive blow being 2-0 up and getting beaten; that's going to have a massive effect on them and I'm not feeling sorry for them. I just want us to keep winning and whoever's in that play-off spot I think they're going to deserve to be there come the end of the season."

This may seem to reflect extraordinary confidence given that two points separate Thistle from that play-off spot. Yet everything about Higginbotham's demeanour on Saturday evoked that quality as he demanded that the ball be sent his way at every opportunity, sometimes even as he was delivering a pass of his own.

Neither did either his performance or those of his colleagues make it seem unfounded since a team that was, in the first half of the season being heavily criticised for its inability to score goals, now looks to have the capacity to register them freely.

More than half the goals they have accrued in this campaign have come in the 10 games since they were closed out by Celtic on New Year's Day.

Higginbotham's own form reflects that of the team and while keen to accept responsibility he welcomes the additional firepower generated by the presence of Chris Erskine, scorer of their first goal, Lyle Taylor and Kris Doolan, their top scorer who returned to the starting line-up on Saturday.

"I only scored one before Christmas so there was a massive onus on Dools. Now I've managed to find my scoring form so I need to keep it going," said Higginbotham.

"I don't mind having the onus on me. I thrive off people having to rely on me. I think it brings the best out of me, but having all four of us on the pitch is a massive goal threat and I don't think many teams in this league will be able to defend against us."

As a quartet they were a real handful whenever Partick Thistle could generate a decent supply of possession, which was mostly the case after the first half-hour which Hibernian dominated without presenting much in the way of a goal threat.

When the visitors did produce their sole counter, two minutes after Thistle had scored their second, it was inevitably Sam Stanton and Duncan Watmore, 19 and just turned 20 respectively, who combined for it.

Little wonder that Terry Butcher, their manager, who is increasingly expected to overhaul his squad in the summer, is threatening to do so much more quickly than that by bringing in further youngsters this Saturday, murmuring darkly: "I don't like being let down."

That visit to St Johnstone represents their last realistic chance to return to contention for a top-six finish, but their recent record suggests the greater concern has to be that if they cannot manage a win or two soon it is the other direction in which they will have to look.

Five points ahead of Thistle they may still be, but on the basis of this particular showing there is no doubting which camp had greater grounds for optimism for the weeks ahead.

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