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.”

Partick Thistle are in the box seat for a return to the cinch Premiership following their 2-0 play-off final first leg win over 10-man Ross County at Firhill.

Jags winger Aidan Fitzpatrick opened the scoring in the ninth minute with a terrific strike before 16-year-old Staggies defender Dylan Smith was sent off by referee David Munro eight minutes later for denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity, after the official upgraded a yellow card to red following the intervention of the VAR Andrew Dallas.

In front of 7,291 fans, Thistle’s 35-year-old striker Brian Graham volleyed in a second for the Championship outfit just before the break to take his season tally to 21 and the home side could and should have scored more against a team a man down for most of the game.

However, Kris Doolan’s inventive side – now unbeaten in 11 games – will travel to Dingwall for the second leg on Sunday, buoyed with confidence while Malky Mackay’s men must dig deep if they are to retain their top-flight status.

Thistle, the first club to reach a Premiership play-off final after finishing fourth in the second tier, exploded into the game.

Winger Steve Lawless’s drive after skipping past Smith was saved by Staggies keeper Ross Laidlaw for a corner which he held.

However, the home side were soon ahead.

Fitzpatrick took a crossfield pass from Lawless, nipped in between Victor Loturi and Owura Edwards and from 16 yards curled the ball past Laidlaw into the far corner of the net before taking the acclaim of the fans.

More drama followed.

Smith was initially booked by Munro for fouling Fitzpatrick on the edge of the box as he attempted to race through on goal.

However, after going off to check the pitch side monitor – VAR was in operation for the first time at Firhill – the referee returned to flash a red and the visitors were down to 10 men, with defender Keith Watson immediately coming on for striker Alex Samuel before skipper Ross Docherty lifted the free-kick well over the bar.

In the 34th minute Graham connected with a Kyle Turner corner but Laidlaw was down smartly to save.

County edged forward as often as they could but they appeared susceptible to losing a second, with Graham thundering a drive over from the edge of the box.

The former Ross County and Dundee United forward was much more accurate from another Turner corner, volleying in from 12 yards to send the Glasgow side into the break on a high.

Ben Purrington replaced George Harmon, who had been booked, for the start of the second half as the Dingwall side looked to keep themselves in the tie but within minutes Thistle’s Kevin Holt had volleyed over the Staggies crossbar from eight yards.

Thistle then swarmed all over the visitors and should have added to their lead.

Graham had a goal-bound drive blocked for a corner by centre-back Jack Randall before Scott Tiffoney also saw his effort from inside the box hit County defender Connor Randall and then Laidlaw somehow kept out a close-range header from Graham.

County hinted at a threat occasionally and in the 64th minute Jags defender Aaron Muirhead brilliantly blocked a shot from Staggies forward Jordan White.

The  Dingwall side pushed for a lifeline which never arrived, the home side finishing in control with substitute Danny Mullen cracking the bar with a powerful drive and they will surely travel to Dingwall on Sunday more in belief than hope.

Malky Mackay feels responsibility rather than pressure as he strives to keep Ross County in the cinch Premiership.

The Staggies finished 11th in the table and will face Championship side Partick Thistle in the first leg of their play-off tie at Firhill on Thursday night, with the return game in Dingwall on Sunday.

Asked if he felt the pressure of the task ahead, County boss Mackay told Sky Sports Scotland: “Not pressure, responsibility.

“I have had responsibility since day one when I took over the job.

“I have a responsibility to the people of the Highlands, to Ross County, the owner, chief executive, my staff – but that is something that every football manager has every time he puts pen to paper at a football club.

“You get everything from me because you have given me the chances to become your football manager and I have a responsibility to make sure I do everything to the best of the football club which is certainly what I have done throughout my whole career.

“So I have a massive responsibility but that is what football managers have to do.

“That’s something that’s part of being a manager rather than a coach. So pressure? No. Responsibility? Absolutely.”

Mackay will bank on Ross County’s Premiership experience when trying to curtail free-scoring Thistle, who have notched 16 goals over the course of their last four play-off ties and who beat Ayr United 8-0 on aggregate in the semi-final clash.

He said: “We put Partick Thistle into the same process as when we look at every other team.

“We look at their strengths and weaknesses. We look at where they can hurt the opposition and where the opposition can hurt them and we have done that.

“So that just goes into the same preparation we would do for every other team, bearing in mind we have played against the 11 Premiership teams three or four times this season.

“So we have played a lot of good teams this season who have big threats at the top level and we will take Partick Thistle just as seriously as we would take the rest.”

Kilmarnock manager Derek McInnes hopes in-form striker Kyle Vassell can dust himself off for their do-or-die showdown with Ross County.

Vassell struck twice in Wednesday’s 3-0 win over Dundee United, which kept Killie in pole position in the race for cinch Premiership survival.

The Ayrshire side will secure their top-flight status for another year if they avoid defeat against Ross County at Rugby Park on Sunday but they face a play-off if they lose.

Vassell, who missed games in recent weeks before hitting three goals in three matches, went off after a heavy challenge from Charlie Mulgrew in the second half on Wednesday.

McInnes said: “He’s not really trained properly since the Hearts game around seven weeks ago. We’re just getting him out there, to be honest.

“He’s been doing a lot of work with the physio, but we don’t want to irritate his knee.

“He did a wee bit of work with us on Tuesday and declared himself fit, as he does. He turns up for his work and he’s prepared to get his hands dirty.

“He’s so important to me and the team. We’re hoping that he’s all right.

“We’re conscious that it usually takes five or six days for it to clear up, we’ve only got three, so we’re up against it. Knowing him as I do, he’ll be willing to put himself out there.”

Livingston manager David Martindale says some members of his squad should not be surprised if they are dropped for the trip to Kilmarnock following their performances in a 2-0 defeat by Ross County.

The Lions started as the better of the two teams in Dingwall but could not find a breakthrough to make the most of their momentum.

Either side of half-time County did find the net through Alex Iacovitti and Alex Samuel – and in the end it was a comfortable victory for the Staggies.

That comfort level left Martindale unimpressed, and he thought some of his players looked as though they had nothing left to play for this season.

“I don’t think up until the first goal the boys were off it, but giving the cheap goal away saw Ross County grow in confidence,” he said.

“There was more desire and intensity from Ross County than us after the goal, so we need to find our feet very quickly.

“We will be playing against other teams who are fighting against relegation, and we have to match that desire that those players will have. It’s my job to make sure the players find that.

“We have four games left now, and if most of the guys got dropped next week I don’t think they could have much to say about it.

“Our squad depth is a challenge at this point, but it’s up to me and my staff to find a solution and we’re more than capable of doing that.”

Martindale’s opposite number Malky Mackay, on the other hand, was delighted with Ross County’s display.

Coming off the back of a two-week wait for redemption after a 6-1 drubbing bby Hearts, Mackay was heartened by his players closing the gap at the bottom of the cinch Premiership table to a single point.

“We only haven’t been at it twice this season, and Hearts was one of them,” he said.

“In most games it has been close, we have been in and around it. Every team we have played, we have made it tough whether we win or lose – so I was really disappointed with that performance.

“It was really important that in the first of the two-week break, we got them back in and put a shoulder around them. They were battered and bruised, in terms of their reputation and they were disappointed.

“Against Livingston, we again made it difficult for a team. I’ve got a group here that will fight to the last to make sure we stay in this division.”

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