Partick Thistle eased their way out of the relegation play-off zone after a vital 1-0 win over Ayr United.

The victory takes the Firhill side into sixth place, ahead of Morton on goal difference and five points clear of bottom-placed Falkirk with two games to go. In between are Queen of the South and Alloa but with Thistle hosting Ayr this weekend another win would confirm their safety in the Ladbrokes Championship.

“The boys showed great spirit,” said Thistle boss Gary Caldwell. “We were the better team in the first half and we dug in during the second half when Ayr put us under pressure but we saw that out fairly comfortably.”

Having been relegated from the top flight last term, this result looks to have steered Caldwell’s side away from the daunting threat of a second successive slide down the divisions.

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Shea Gordon scored the only goal of the game after just 17 minutes but this was an encounter that Thistle should have won by a far greater margin given the chances created. Ayr offered very little in an attacking sense but there were anxious moments in the final stages of the game that could have been avoided had Thistle not been quite so profligate.

A minute’s silence was impeccably observed before kick-off following the death of former Celtic captain and manager Billy McNeill before the encounter got under way.

Gordon had the first real chance of the game when he broke away on a swift counter attack following an Ayr corner. Collecting from inside his own half, Gordon was allowed to run the length of the park but, with Joe Cardle waiting, he went for it alone and lifted a wild effort over the bar.

Ayr, though, almost took the lead shortly after when a Nicky Cadden corner was headed over by Michael Rose.

It was Gordon, though, who gave Thistle first blood when he atoned for his earlier miss. Scott McDonald was floored by Ayr keeper Ross Doohan as he went to meet a cross from James Penrice – Ayr claimed the keeper had been infringed – but the ball fell kindly to Gordon who took his time before unleashing a half-volley into the net.

McDonald played on after the incident but having felt the effects of the collision with the keeper had to come off with 12 minutes of the opening period still to play. It remains to be seen if he will be fit for Saturday’s game at Firhill.

“It was great bravery from Scott,” said Caldwell. “He doesn’t know what day it is in the dressing room. I realised we had to take him off when he didn’t know what his role was supposed to be at a set piece – and he thought he’d scored our goal!

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“We’ll consult with the medical team but he did take a heavy dunt. They’ll assess him tomorrow as to whether or not he’ll be available for Saturday’s game. But everyone deserves credit tonight because each player did his job.”

In between times Cardle had tried his luck with a low effort that Doohan took without too much trouble but there was little of note to genuinely trouble either goalkeeper.

Kris Doolan, who had taken over from the injured McDonald to mark his 400th appearance for the Maryhill club, clipped the side-netting after Gary Harkins had slipped the ball through to him.

It was Gordon, though, who could have sealed the points for Thistle in the second period when he collected from Doolan but, after getting in behind the Ayr defence, he hit his effort straight at Ayr stopper Doohan.

As Thistle went in search of the second goal that would kill the game off, Cardle had a long-range effort that Doohan spilled but collected at the second attempt as Jags sub Doolan looked to mop up the rebound.

Ayr, by contrast, did little to trouble Jamie Sneddon at the other end. The hosts, however, tried to drag themselves into the game and came into it more as the night went on, but it was Thistle who looked for more dangerous going forward.

Thistle appealed for a penalty after substitute Blair Spittal was brought down on the edge of the box. Referee Alan Newlands booked Liam Smith and from the resultant set-piece Spittal hit his effort straight into the wall.

Calvin Miller had an effort whizz past the post while Miles Storey and Spittal had efforts from distance as Thistle chased an elusive second.

On-loan Celt Miller thought he had nicked a point for Ayr in the latter stages with an effort from the edge of the box that went just inches wide but Thistle held on to take all three points.

“It looked like a team fighting for their lives against a team with one eye on the play-offs but in saying that we were hamstrung with players out,” said Ian McCall, who felt that Ayr out to have had a first-half penalty.

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“We need to get players back for the Inverness games.”

AYR: (4-4-2): Doohan; Smith, Rose, Muirhead, Harvie; Murdoch (Forrest 71) , Kerr, Crawford (McCowan 83); Moffat, Cadden (McDaid 46), Miller. Subs: Hare-Reid, Ecrepont, Geggan.

THISTLE (4-2-3-1): Sneddon; Elliott, Anderson, McGinty, Rice; Bannigan, Harkins; Gordon; Fitzpatrick (Spittal 58), Penrice, Cardle (Storey 73); McDonald (Doolan 33) . Subs: Hazard, Slater, Mansell, Saunders.

REFEREE: Alan Newlands