GARY Neville once said of Cristiano Ronaldo that he always seeks out the weakest link in any defence to be “bullied”. But while the Portugues was taking another trouncing on home turf with Manchester United, Zak Rudden – in somewhat less glamorous surrounds – was showing there is an alternative method.

Instead of seeking out one opponent for special punishment, the Thistle forward opted to take on the entire Kilmarnock back four.

In stunning first-half display, the 21-year-old embarrassed Killie’s two centre-backs with impudent flicks, one of which led the opening, and winning, goal at Rugby Park within three minutes. He also outmuscled right-back Jason Naismith and in the game’s most contentious moment, outstripped left-back Calum Waters, who brought down the striker with a last man challenge but avoided a red card.

“It was brilliant. We were off to a flier with Zak’s movement, a great run and a great finish,” said Jags captain Ross Docherty, who laid on Rudden’s goal.

“We were delighted. I thought Zak was electric. Especially first half. Even when he goes through again he’s about to strike the ball and he gets taken out. He was excellent.”

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The winner against the league leaders moves Rudden up to six for the Championship season, as well as two assists.

“When he’s playing like that he’s got to be up there with the best in the division,” Docherty added. “There’s a lot of good players in the league but when he’s on form and he’s at it, there are not many who are better.”

The Thistle captain also picked out keeper Jamie Sneddon for special praise. The stopper sprang to life in the dying seconds to deny Killie’s top marksman Olly Shaw, who flicked on a knock down from a corner only for it to be held on the line.

“He’s made a worldly save at the end,” Docherty said. “He’s done well to get down and he might’ve got a wee bit fortunate but you make your own luck by getting there and making the save.”

He added: “When we play like that, the way that we can, and get a bit of momentum then we will be hard to stop.”

Killie, who never truly threatened Thistle’s goal until the closing seconds, remain a point clear at the top of the table. But the third home league defeat was undeniably disappointing, forward Scott Robinson acknowledged.

He said the fans were “quite right” to be disappointed with the players, adding: “It’s down to us to turn it around – I’m sure we will.”