Partick Thistle took a huge step towards the cinch Premiership play-off final as Kris Doolan’s side recorded a 3-0 win over Ayr United that extended the Jags’ unbeaten run to nine matches ahead of Friday night’s second leg at Somerset Park.

The visitors were without the services of Dipo Akinyemi – the second tier’s Player of the Year – but they didn’t allow that to dampen their spirits as they looked to seize the early initiative in Maryhill in front of a crowd of 7012 – the Jags’ highest attendance in years.

Thistle were a little slow out of the traps and it was Ayr who were in the ascendancy early on. A corner for the away side was initially headed clear but the ball sat up favourably for Chris Maguire to rifle a first-time rocket at goal, and David Mitchell showed good awareness to tip the ball over his bar.

Slowly, though, their hosts grew into the game. Scott Tiffoney, playing in a central role as Kyle Turner dropped into central midfield role to fill in for the injured Stuart Bannigan, found some space out right, beat his man and drilled a low shot toward the far post, only to be denied by the outstretched glove of Charlie Albinson.

A few minutes passed and then Doolan’s men took the lead. A superb through ball from Stevie Lawless sent Jack McMillan through on goal and although the angle was narrow, Albinson could do nothing to stop the full-back’s effort that rifled into the back of the net.

The Herald:

Ayr were fortunate to avoid conceding a second midway through the first half. A long ball played back towards goal forced Albinson out of his box with Tiffoney bearing down on him; the Ayr goalkeeper won the initial challenge to send the ball spiraling into the air once again, and was caught in no man’s land when the ball fell to Brian Graham, who couldn’t find the target with his first-time shot from distance.

Thistle’s tails were up now as they sought to double their advantage. They really should have made it 2-0 on 38 minutes when Aidan Fitzpatrick showed good skill to beat his man out on the left wing and drilled an excellent ball in towards Graham just a few yards out, but the centre-forward somehow skewed his effort wide of goal.

With just a few minutes of the opening 45 left to play, some neat footwork from Lawless on the opposite flank allowed the winger to curl in an inviting cross towards Graham, but his header lacked direction and the ball trundled wide of the far post.

There was a brief delay before the second half could get underway as a Thistle supporter hurdled the pitchside advertising hoarding and ran across the turf brandishing a red smoke bomb, but once he was removed and the firework burned out, the action resumed.

The Herald:

The home side started the second period in the same manner they finished the first: on the front foot and looking to press home their advantage. Two corner kicks were won in quick succession, one on either side, but neither resulted in a serious attempt at goal. A few minutes elapsed and Fitzpatrick opted to have a go from distance, only to be denied by the crossbar.

Barely thirty seconds had passed and the Jags were 2-0 up. Tiffoney wriggled his way down the right, drilling a low ball across the face of goal and in towards Graham, lurking just a few yards from goal. This time, the striker made no mistake as he coolly slotted the ball home to put his side in the driving seat.

The momentum was well and truly with the hosts now. Kyle Turner had a pop from distance and Fitzpatick was denied in a one v one with Albinson as the chanting from the home fans in the John Lambie Stand grew louder and louder as their belief grew and grew.

The home crowd wanted more and Graham got his second with 15 minutes to go, turning in Fitzpatrick’s whipped delivery from close range to give his side an unassailable lead on the night. The three-goal advantage they take to Ayrshire next week that leaves Doolan’s men with an excellent chance of reaching their first Premiership play-off final since the format was introduced in 2013.

The Herald:

Elsewhere, Annan Athletic sealed promotion to the third tier for the first time in the club’s history as Clyde were relegated to League Two.

The Borders side held a 3-1 lead from the first leg at Galabank earlier in the week but were given a fright when Oliver McDonald scored for the home side shortly after the interval to halve the arrears before substitute Benjamin Luissint restored Annan’s two-goal advantage, and the same man scored again in the 93rd minute to put the icing on the cake and send his side up.