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St Johnstone 1 Partick Thistle 1: Relish of relegation dogfight is the spice of life

SOME people are gluttons for punishment.

Partick Thistle's Jordan McMillan challenges Michael O'Halloran. Picture: SNS
Partick Thistle's Jordan McMillan challenges Michael O'Halloran. Picture: SNS

Step forward Jordan McMillan. The Partick Thistle centre-back has endured more torture in the last two years than an Ann Summers loyalty card member, with a whistle-stop tour of Hamilton, Dumfries and Wrexham leading him to Fife, and the refuge of Dunfermline Athletic after he was jettisoned from Ibrox. Yet his time at East End Park was also to prove short, with the financially crippled club making the full-back redundant as they cut their outgoings while teetering on the edge of the abyss.

This series of events led McMillan to sign on at Firhill at the end of last season, where an Irn-Bru First Division championship appeared to bring an end to a chapter of woe which has blighted his progression since he first emerged at Murray Park in the documentary series Blue Heaven.

Yet torments never seem too far away for McMillan, in what has been a season of missed opportunities and what-might-have-beens for Thistle. Two points above the SPFL Premiership relegation play-off spot - currently occupied by St Mirren - the Glasgow club are far from safe as they fight it out with Ross County, Kilmarnock and Hibernian to make sure they are not the ones to swap places with Danny Lennon's team.

But while the stresses and strains of fighting for survival are enough to reduce even the most composed men to a greetin' mess, the 25-year-old is revelling in the ruckus. McMillan was central in nullifying the potent threat of St Johnstone in Saturday's 1-1 draw at McDiarmid Park, as Thistle's spirit was rewarded by an injury-time goal from Kris Doolan.

"I've never experienced a relegation fight before, but it's something that I have enjoyed," said McMillan. "You look forward to the end of the games and looking at the results from the other matches. I enjoy the hustle and bustle, the decisions, the tackles. It's going to be a battle.

"The first thing we asked after the game is 'how did the other teams get on?' I'm sure Kilmarnock, Ross County and St Mirren will be doing the same. But it's not about that, it's about still working hard and hoping we can get results. We are going into the split so we will be playing each other. Things are in our own hands."

Doolan's late strike, despite finding its way into the net courtesy of some dodgy goalkeeping from Alan Mannus, was far from undeserved for Thistle. They responded positively to Stevie May's opener after nine minutes, with the prolific St Johnstone striker only being afforded one more chance as the balance of the game swung towards the visitors. Indeed, most of Partick's problems were founded in their fallibility. Alan Archibald, the Firhill manager, has instilled a passing philosophy into his team over the past season and a half. But given their current precarious state near the foot of the table, much of their play appeared anxious at best and downright woeful at worst, with Gabriel Piccolo at the heart of the Thistle defence causing several heart-in-mouth moments.

"I think we would have been really upset against St Johnstone if we didn't take something, despite starting slowly," added McMillan. "It's down to hard work, teams like St Johnstone never give up. But we did that, we matched them, I think we were the better team. We deserved a point. We came up last year playing good football. The gaffer has tried to keep that but when you are in the relegation area you need to fight."

The point on Saturday proved to be a measured one for Tommy Wright's team. The St Johnstone manager took his seat in the directors' box for a first glimpse of the team which has been tearing up the Premiership in his absence while the Northern Irishman was in hospital following a gall bladder operation. The draw with Thistle may have scuppered the chance of his side recording three wins within the space of a week. However, it also triggered a reality check with their season likely to be defined within the next three weeks. Currently 12 points behind third-placed Motherwell, who occupy the last remaining Europa League qualification spot, a date with Aberdeen in the William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final on April 13 is a landmark day in the Perth club's calendar.

And Lee Croft, the St Johnstone midfielder, is confident their level-headed approach can help them safely navigate the games to come. "I'm looking forward to the split and the semi-final," said the former Manchester City winger. "We're not looking at the semi-final yet, but we think we owe Aberdeen one for the League Cup defeat. We're just concentrating on the next game with Kilmarnock. It's good to have the manager back and I'm sure he'll be involved in some capacity this week."

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