Brian Graham bags brace as Partick Thistle put one foot in play-off final

By Sports Desk May 19, 2023

Brian Graham struck a second-half double as Partick Thistle took a major step towards the cinch Premiership play-off final with a 3-0 first-leg victory over Ayr at Firhill.

Graham had other chances following Jack McMillan’s 16th-minute opener as a dominant Thistle continued their impressive form under Kris Doolan in front of a 7,012 crowd.

The Jags have now only lost once in 16 matches since their former striker succeeded Ian McCall and have netted 11 goals in the play-offs so far.

The 2,000 fans in the sold-out visiting section got a shock before kick-off when top goalscorer Dipo Akinyemi was missing from the team lists, apparently with a back injury.

The striker has played in every other game for Ayr this season and hit 24 goals.

Manager Lee Bullen brought in Mark McKenzie, whose fifth goal of the campaign sent Ayr into second place in the Championship in the final moments of the regular campaign at Inverness.

Ayr made a bright start and Chris Maguire saw his well-struck first-time effort from 25 yards acrobatically saved by David Mitchell.

Scott Tiffoney forced a decent stop from Charlie Albinson at the other end and Thistle got on top before taking the lead. Steven Lawless threaded a ball through for McMillan who had sneaked behind the home defence before rifling a shot through Charlie Albinson.

Thistle continued to dominate with their creative players producing some excellent touches, and they should have been further ahead by the break with Graham missing two open goals, although both times the ball flashed at him quickly.

The experienced striker volleyed the first chance wide from outside the box with Albinson stranded after coming out of his box to head a long ball up into the air. Graham then missed from close range following Aidan Fitzpatrick’s driven cross.

The striker, who hit his 50th Thistle goal in the quarter-finals, then saw a header drift wide.

Ayr rarely got forward in the first half following their early pressure but Josh Mullin had a couple of half-chances, heading over before having a shot blocked.

The Jags maintained their dominance after the interval. Fitzpatrick hit the bar from long range before Graham converted from close range in the 50th minute after Tiffoney had played the ball across the face of goal. There was a hint of offside but no flag came.

The hosts continued to create chances. Kyle Turner curled wide from 18 yards and Fitzpatrick blazed over from an excellent opportunity.

Ayr defender Frankie Musonda saw a header blocked in the goalmouth before Thistle patiently worked the ball forward on the break and extended their lead in the 72nd minute as Graham finished first time from six yards following Fitzpatrick’s curling delivery.

Ayr threatened to snatch a late lifeline. Mitchell got down well to make an excellent one-handed stop from Ben Dempsey before substitute Paul Smith hit the bar with a 20-yard free-kick. Thistle went straight up the park and Albinson pulled off a diving stop to prevent Danny Mullen making it 4-0 with the final kick.

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    Kyle Turner revealed Kris Doolan targeted cinch Premiership football immediately upon becoming Partick Thistle boss as the Jags stand on the brink of a return to the top flight.

    Doolan stepped up from his role as under-18 coach in February to take over, initially on a temporary basis, from Ian McCall and the turnaround in form since has taken the Maryhill side all the way to the play-off final.

    The Jags are 2-0 up from Thursday’s first leg against Ross County – the victory extending their unbeaten run to 11 games – with the return game taking place in Dingwall on Sunday.

    Thistle are the first team to finish fourth in the second tier to go all the way to the play-off final – during that run Doolan had to cope with the death of his father Lawrence – and they are looking to make more history by completing the job against the Staggies.

    Malky Mackay’s side played most of the game in Glasgow with 10 men after 16-year-old defender Dylan Smith was sent off in the first half for denying Aidan Fitzpatrick an obvious goalscoring opportunity and midfielder Turner is hoping Doolan’s ambition is soon fulfilled.

    The 25-year-old said: “The gaffer has been brilliant. He has had a hard time in the last few weeks and it has been tough for him.

    “But when he came those were his first words, ‘let’s try to get to the Premiership’.

    “He constantly goes on about it in the changing room, that we want to be looking up the way and how we want to get there.

    “It is the top league in Scotland and he instilled a belief in us that we can do this and so far so good.

    “Since the gaffer has come in we have a siege mentality and we keep going to see what happens.

    “In five play-off games we have scored 18 goals and conceded three, so the gaffer has installed a belief in us. He wants us to be free and go and play our own game and it has worked so far.

    “We were disappointed this season and we should have been challenging in the final games but we slipped up a few times and we weren’t happy with that.

    “We finished fourth and we had to play six games in the play-offs. We felt the worst we should have finished was second.

    “When we got past Queen’s Park, then the belief started to grow. We know Sunday will be tough and County will throw everything at us so we have to be ready.”

    Turner believes the margin of victory over the Staggies, who finished 11th in the Premiership, could have been greater.

    The former Stranraer and Dunfermline player said: “I thought we put on a good performance. We were actually disappointed we didn’t score more goals to be honest.

    “We had a lot of chances in the second half but County defended well and they threw bodies in front of the ball to make it hard for us.

    “If someone had said to us we would win 2-0 then we would have been happy.

    “But the way the game went with them down to 10 men, with the chances we created, on another day we would have scored more. But overall though we are delighted with the win.”

  • Jordan White insists Ross County believe they can still stay in Premiership Jordan White insists Ross County believe they can still stay in Premiership

    Jordan White admits belief is key to Ross County’s quest to claw back a two-goal deficit against Partick Thistle on Sunday as they battle for cinch Premiership survival.

    The Staggies lost 2-0 in the first leg of the play-off final at Firhill on Thursday night where they played for the majority of the game with 10 men after 16-year-old defender Dylan Smith was sent off in the 17th minute for denying Aidan Fitzpatrick, who had netted the opener for the Championship side, an obvious goalscoring opportunity.

    Veteran Jags striker Brian Graham struck just before half-time with his 21st goal of the season to put Kris Doolan’s side in the box seat for the second leg in Dingwall.

    However, Staggies striker White insists the tie is not over yet.

    The 31-year-old said: “I don’t think I would have taken 2-0 at any time but under the circumstances I think we did well to come out the way we have.

    “The first half isn’t how we wanted it to go but we have another game to put it right.

    “The belief in the group is always there and there’s no point turning up thinking you can’t do it as you are on to a loser then. It is only half-time in the tie, that’s all it is.

    “Other than the Kilmarnock game (3-1 defeat) I think we have performed pretty well since the split.

    “It all comes down to Sunday now and we have to look after ourselves and put in a performance. No one in the dressing room wants a relegation on their CV.

    “Partick have had a good night on Thursday but we have to take our medicine and move on.”

    White believes home advantage could be “massive” as County look to turn the tie around against a Jags side who are unbeaten in 11 games.

    He said: “Partick played well but coming up against 10 men for 75 minutes probably made it a bit easier for them.

    “We can’t use it as an excuse but we know what we can do and we are confident going into the game.

    “It was disappointing on Thursday but we need the fans behind us and they can be a big help, especially if we get an early goal.”

  • Hearts and Hibernian given SFA notice of complaint after incident at Tynecastle Hearts and Hibernian given SFA notice of complaint after incident at Tynecastle

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    At full-time, following a clash that ended 1-1, two skirmishes erupted on the pitch, one directly in front of the two technical areas and another just moments afterwards in the centre circle.

    Hearts goalkeeping coach Paul Gallacher and substitute shot-stopper Ross Stewart as well as Hibs manager Lee Johnson and unused substitute Rocky Bushiri were all shown red cards for their part in the post-match chaos.

    And on Friday it emerged that the two clubs have been charged, alleged to have breached disciplinary rule 204, which states that: “All clubs and recognised football bodies shall procure that its officials, team staff, employees and players conduct themselves in an orderly fashion at all times during and/or after a match.

    “In particular, clubs and recognised football bodies are responsible for ensuring that its officials, team staff, employees and players refrain from any one or a combination of the following: (a) becoming involved in a confrontation; b) conduct that is likely to lead to or to exacerbate or prolong a hostile or argumentative situation with players and/or team staff from the opposing team and/or match officials; (c) conduct that may otherwise incite disorder.”

    The hearing for both clubs is due to take place on June 29.

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