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Ross County 1 Partick Thistle 1: Talk of surface tension as push comes to shove

Four days earlier, it had been praised by the foes from across the firth as a slick, impressive platform for their stirring Highland derby victory.

Partick Thistle's Prince Buaben challenges Evangelos Oikonomou. Picture: SNS
Partick Thistle's Prince Buaben challenges Evangelos Oikonomou. Picture: SNS

Ask Partick Thistle's players, though, and the Ross County playing surface was complicit in Saturday's substandard performance.

Quite what had befallen what seemed a lush, green expanse at the Global Energy Stadium in the space of under a week remained unclear.

It was perhaps a case of clutching at straws after a disappointingly scrappy game of football.

But Prince Buaben, who passed up a fine chance to score a second for the visitors, was adamant the pitch had played a detrimental part in the outcome. "I don't think the match was scrappy because of pressure or tension on the teams," the former Dundee United midfielder said. "We tried to play, but playing on that pitch was never going to help. It was poor.

"We definitely should have won the game and the players are a bit disappointed, but a point away from home is good. I had a chance to score - and should have scored. We spoke about it in the dressing room afterwards. I can't really blame anyone but myself for the miss, not even the pitch."

Partick Thistle came into the match buoyed by beating high-flying Aberdeen in their previous match, but that remains their solitary win of 2014.

"At home we have a better pitch and everyone is confident, as we showed against Aberdeen," the Ghanaian added. "There is a big difference playing on a pitch like that. We did well to get a point away from home." Both goals came within the opening 13 minutes. Scott Boyd's foul on Lyle Taylor after eight minutes teed up his strike partner Kallum Higginbotham for his main contribution.

The Partick Thistle forward outwitted those in the Ross County wall by driving the free kick hard and low straight at them; the players' leap allowing the shot to fly low past Mark Brown.

But when Lee Mair chopped down home midfielder Filip Kiss as he wriggled into space 25 yards out, the resultant dead ball appeared tailor-made for Richard Brittain, and his powerful, accurate kick curved around the wall and into Paul Gallacher's net.

The visitors' best chance to regain the lead fell to Prince Buaben, but he blazed the ball over the bar with the goal in his sights, while County's Yoann Arquin thundered a header just over the bar and substitute Melvin de Leeuw was twice blocked by Gallacher late in the game.

Buaben's comments regarding the pitch were met by general bemusement in the home camp, but midfielder Stuart Kettlewell, who missed the derby defeat by Inverness, was in no doubt as to the seriousness of the club's situation.

Recalled by manager Derek Adams, Kettlewell was his team's standout performer, even with the rustiness of a seven-week absence.

"It is just so tight and all of the teams are taking points off each other," the 29-year-old said of the SPFL's lower-half sides.

The Dingwall team slipped to 11th place on goal difference after being held at home, with Kettlewell all too aware of the stakes.

His team now approach a run of five final pre-split games - all against top-six sides - with one point separating County, St Mirren, Partick Thistle and Kilmarnock.

"We beat St Mirren but we lost the derby and have drawn with Partick. We don't want to settle for second best and we are not happy about it," Kettlewell added. "The game did get scrappy and it could have been the nerves or the tension of the position we are in.

"Partick Thistle are in the same boat as us and maybe it was the same for them. Or possibly it was an off day and we need to put it behind us.

"But we all know we just need to concentrate on ourselves and see if we can play better than we did against Partick Thistle. We need to work hard over the next two weeks and look forward to playing St Johnstone away. We wanted to get the three points today but we will just work hard and try to improve."

Few prisoners will be taken in the lower-table dogfight, and Kettlewell believes that with Celtic left out of the equation every other team in the SPFL would still have hopes of taking at least a point from any of the others. "Hibs could still possibly be dragged into it, which would make it even harder again with teams scrapping for points," Kettlewell added.

"Last week, we beat St Mirren and this week they got a good result. That is why it is so tight down there. It just shows how topsy-turvy it is. But we will look after ourselves and we know there is enough quality in the changing room to steer ourselves away from danger."

As for his own return, Kettlewell revealed it had been a late call.

"I'm delighted to be back, but obviously was hoping for a better result," he said. "The return came out of the blue for me - I only found out this morning - but I was glad to get in and I'm always ready to go anyway. It is tough to come back in after that length of time, but you just have to do all you can to keep your place. It was a bit scrappy and neither team really took control of the game."

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