Ross County ended a run of five games without a win with a thumping 4-0 victory over Partick Thistle which saw them leapfrog the away side off the foot of the Premiership. Alex Schalk produced a standout performance, netting a hat-trick for the Staggies.
It was Thistle who had the first real chance to open the scoring when Martin Woods’ corner fell to the feet of Connor Sammon who saw his close-range shot well saved by Scott Fox. Fox was one of five changes made to the home side ahead of the game, replacing Aaron McCarey who was out injured.
Midfielder Jamie Lindsay was the first into referee William Collum’s book for a late challenge on Partick’s captain Abdul Osman. Ross Draper then had a great opportunity to open the scoring for the home side on 15 minutes, but he failed to steer a free header on target from eight yards after Michael Gardyne’s driven free-kick.
The home side, who were growing into the half, took the lead on 35 minutes with their first attempt on target. Alex Schalk got the goal, firing into the bottom corner from the edge of the area after good work from Gardyne and Lindsay down the left-hand side - with the Dutchman making a beeline for the dugout to celebrate with co-managers Stuart Kettlewell and Steven Ferguson.
Minutes later it was 2-0. Schalk was involved again, swinging in a delicious corner that found the head of Draper who made up for his miss earlier on as he powered the ball home to put The Staggies in firm control.
Partick Thistle had a chance to pull a goal back just before the end of the half, but Woods’ corner flashed right across the face of goal without a touch.
The away side made two changes at the interval, with Chris Erskine and Blair Spittal replacing Ryan Edwards and Miles Storey as they looked for a way back into the game.
County began the second half attacking the Jail End and continued to press the Thistle defence as they looked to seal the points. Schalk yet again was the man causing problems, as he sent a fierce effort just over the bar from 25 yards. Minutes later he did find the net after, latching onto an audacious flick from Billy Mckay, but the linesman flagged for offside.
Minutes later Schalk was in on goal again to score his second of the game to put the Staggies 3-0 up with 56 minutes played. The striker chased down Fox’s goal kick and showed great composure to steer the ball past Ryan Scully.
Partick Thistle - who were struggling to find a foothold in the game - had a couple of chances on the hour mark, with substitute Spittal forcing Fox into a smart save from distance before Amos curled the ball just over again from outside the area. Thistle didn’t look confident in possession, though, frequently over-hitting passes and giving the ball away cheaply.
With 20 minutes to go Partick made their final change when Paul McGinn was replaced by Callum Booth.
This substitution had little effect on the game and minutes later County sealed the points and Schalk was at it again as he got his third of the match. Fraser and Gardyne played a one-two down the right hand-side, with the former finding himself in on goal. Fraser’s left-footed shot was well saved by Scully but the ball bounced into the path of Schalk who couldn’t miss as he netted his 30th goal since joining the club.
County made two changes in the space of two minutes as Mckay was replaced by Craig Curran and Ryan Dow came on for Gardyne. Dow almost made an instant impact for the Staggies as he fired inches over from the 18 yards out.
With less than ten minutes to play, Schalk was substituted to a standing ovation from the home support as he was replaced by ex-Liverpool and Paris-Saint-Germain striker David Ngog.
The final few minutes saw County control possession and protect their hard-earned clean sheet which ensured an eight goal goal-difference swing that saw them climb above Partick Thistle into 11th place in the league. Significantly, the victory lifted the Dingwall club off the bottom of the table for the first time in weeks.
Full Time: Ross County 4-0 Partick Thistle.
Ross County Team: Fox, Fraser (c), Routis, Souttar, Gardyne (Dow 77’), Schalk (Ngog 81’), Draper, Lindsay, Mckay (Curran 75’), Fontaine, Melbourne.
Unused Substitutes: McCarey, Dingwall, O’Brien, Keillor-Dunn
Partick Thistle Team: Scully, Cargill, Keown, Osman (c), Barton, Elliot, McGinn (Booth 69’), Sammon, Edwards (Spittal 45’), Woods, Storey (Erskine 45’).
Unused Substitutes: Sneddon, Doolan, Lawless, McCarthy.
Match report courtesy of Ross Barnett, Journalism student, University of Derby.
Photographs: Ken MacPherson.