Brian Graham has never been one to shy away from a battle on the park – and when things started going wrong for Partick Thistle off of it, he was never going to meekly surrender.

The striker’s three-and-a-bit years in Maryhill have been eventful, to say the least. After being brought to the club by Ian McCall in January 2020, Graham barely had his foot in the door before the season was curtailed due to the pandemic and the Jags found themselves controversially demoted to League One.

Few could have blamed the bustling centre-forward for moving on. In a matter of months, he had dropped from the Premiership to Scottish football’s third tier and didn’t find himself short of suitors interested in prying him away from Firhill. But Graham wasn’t interested.

Even now, he clearly has a chip on his shoulder about the whole sordid episode. There’s an underlying rancour that’s hard to miss when he reflects on that troubling time, and it was that same sense of righteous indignation that ultimately informed his decision to hang around. Thistle had been on the receiving end of an injustice, and he was going to do everything in his power to correct it.

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Fast-forward to the present day and it’s fair to say the call has worked out for both parties. Graham’s 18th goal of the season – in the second leg of his side’s Premiership play-off quarter-final away to Queen’s Park a week ago – was his 50th in red and yellow, making the 35-year-old the fifth-quickest player to hit the milestone since the Second World War.

Ayr United lie in wait in the semi-finals, with the first leg being played in Glasgow this evening. Thistle are potentially four matches away from a return to the big time and Graham admits sealing the club’s return to the top flight would be a fitting ending to a roller-coaster few years.

“It would be incredible,” he said. “I could have left this club having only played seven games and scored three goals. I had opportunities to go and I had a clause in my contract that meant I could have walked when we were relegated.

“With everything that happened I didn’t want to walk away. I wanted to take the club back up and we managed to do that by winning League One. In our first season back in the Championship we finished fourth and there was disappointment in the play-offs.

“This season I think we could have won the Championship but we got injuries and that catches up with you when you’re squad is not that big. But now we are in the play-offs I want to go and win and I have the belief we can do it.

“I was angry. I had just taken a massive pay cut to come down the road to be with my family. I took the huge risk to do that and after seven games my wages were getting cut again. Just everything that happened, I felt we were really harshly done by — shafted, if I’m being honest. I wanted to put two fingers up to people and say we will come back stronger.

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“My wages never went back up, right enough. It would be incredible if we can win the play-offs and get back to the Premiership. People look at my age but age is just a number. You see boys playing a lot longer than me.

“I’ve always felt fit. If you look over my career I’ve always scored goals whenever I have played regularly. It’s just having the consistency of playing every week.

“At other clubs if I had an okay game I could find myself out the team. But when a team trusts you and keep playing you, you just to keep doing the business for them and that’s what happened for me at Partick Thistle.”

Graham and his team-mates go into this evening’s contest with momentum at their backs. Since Kris Doolan replaced Ian McCall as manager, the Jags have lost just one of their 15 games and the 8-3 aggregate triumph over Queen’s Park has maintained that sense of optimism going into these crucial final few games of the season.

A 2-2 draw away to Raith on the final day of the regular league campaign ensured Thistle narrowly missed out on second place but Graham thinks he and his team-mates are feeling the benefits of that particular hiccup in Kirkcaldy.

READ MORE: Tragedy and turmoil: Partick Thistle's play-off push against the odds

He explained: “When we didn’t win the league, we were bitterly disappointed we didn’t finish second – but it might be a blessing in disguise that we played those two games against Queen’s Park and played particularly well, scoring eight goals in two games.

“There’s a real confidence but we can’t get carried away. The Championship this season has been really difficult and it will be no different tonight at Ayr United. It’s not going to be easy but hopefully we can take something down to Somerset.”