Flashback in time: Thistle’s 1996 relegation play-off
Meanwhile, the Tangerines ended the First Division level on points with Greenock Morton, but their superior goal difference meant they progressed to face Thistle after Dunfermline pipped them to first place.Current Premiership sides Dundee, St Mirren, St Johnstone and Hamilton helped to make up that year’s First Division as well as the now defunct Clydebank.Kirkwood arguably had the better squad with Scotland caps Steven Pressley, Christian Daily, Andy McLaren, Gary McSwegan and Robbie Winters in his ranks, as well as one-time Ireland international Owen Coyle.Billy Kirkwood returned United to the Scottish Premier Division. sns groupPartick Thistle 1-1 Dundee United – First Leg – Sunday, May 12, 1996 – FirhillA crowd of 10,000-plus saw the sides share the spoils.Thistle dominated the early stages and were rewarded 20 minutes in when Steven Pressley fouled Billy McDonald in the air, allowing Andy Lyons to step up and curl a 30 yard free-kick beyond Ally Maxwell.United pushed for the equaliser, and with 25 minutes left a Craig Brewster effort cannoned off the bar allowing a relieved Nicky Walker to collect the rebound.Thistle almost snatched a second as the home side made a rare break following severe pressure from United – Maxwell denied McDonald and then Ian Cameron.Walker again rescued Thistle by palming away a header from Brewster after Robbie Winters supplied a cross from the right.Less than five minutes remained when Dave Bowman crossed for Christian Dailly to majestically head the equaliser into the top right-hand corner of Walker’s net.United boss Kirkwood admitted: “Had it not been for Nicky Walker, we might have come away with a win.”Dundee United 2-1 Partick Thistle – Second Leg – Thursday, May 16, 1996 – Tannadice A sold-out Tannadice witnessed a tense and dramatic play-off second leg which saw the home side come from behind to win in extra time.Ian Cameron gave Thistle the lead, converting his spot-kick following a foul by Brian Welsh on Nicky Henderson.Dundee United pressed for an equaliser as keeper Nicky Walker played a pivotal role in ensuring Thistle remained in the tie thanks to quick reflexes.But, with 20 seconds remaining in normal time, Walker was beaten.A cross from Andy McLaren resulted in the ball bobbing about the penalty area, with Welsh supplying the finish with his head.Extra time saw Walker once again produce a couple of good saves, and it seemed as if the tie was destined for penalties until Owen Coyle knocked in another McLaren cross from six yards in the 115th minute to send United back into the top flight.Owen Coyle and Brian Welsh celebrate their promotion. sns groupYears later, Brian Welsh spoke of the madness of that night at Tannadice.In an interview with the Sunday Herald, he reflected: “I was pumped up and I remember after scoring that goal, with the confidence we had, there was only going to be one winner”“At the end of normal time, I couldn’t stand still, there was so much adrenaline flowing. “I think everybody knew we were going to win it and that was the way it turned out. It was a packed stadium, a great atmosphere. “Andy McLaren did brilliantly that night, setting up the goal – he did magnificently. “But I look back now and the players that came through for Dundee United around that time were absolutely frightening. “In my reserve team we had Billy McKinlay, Duncan Ferguson, Ray McKinnon, John O’Neil, Andy McLaren, myself and Allan Preston. It was an unbelievable group.”Murdo MacLeod did not manage again after leaving Partick Thistle. sns groupFollowing their play-off clash, each side went on to experience contrasting fortunes.Only six games into their return to the top-flight, Dundee United sacked Billy Kirkwood, replacing him with Tommy McLean.He led United to a third-place finish but their subsequent form did not match up to this achievement, and McLean left the club 18 months later.Over at Firhill though, a decade of turbulence followed their relegation.Murdo MacLeod was sacked in 1997 and a year later the club came close to bankruptcy – kept afloat by the fan-organised Save the Jags campaign – and dropped to the third tier at the end of the 1997-98 season.Club legend John Lambie commenced his third spell as manager and under his stewardship Thistle enjoyed a brief revival, winning back-to-back promotions in 2000-01 and 2001-02, to regain their place in the Scottish Premier League. After two hotly contested affairs, United gained promotion courtesy of an extra-time Owen Coyle goal, and condemned Partick Thistle to relegation.STV casts an eye back to the dramatic encounter.Thistle’s Ian Cameron tussles with Rab Shannon. sns groupMurdo MacLeod was in charge of Partick Thistle as they faced a Dundee United team under the stewardship of Tannadice stalwart Billy Kirkwood.In the 95/96 season, Walter Smith’s Rangers lifted the Premier Division title, while Thistle finished one place ahead of bottom side Falkirk – who were relegated automatically. Partick Thistle take on Livingston in the Premiership play-offs as they look to maintain their place in the top-flight.For Livingston it will be their first taste of the play-offs at top-division level, but the Jags have faced this situation before.At the end of the 1995/96 season, whilst Livingston were celebrating winning the Third Division title in their first season under their new name, Thistle took on Dundee United in a two-legged play-off for a place in the Scottish Premier Division.The Firhill side had finished ninth in the Premier Division as United came second in the First Division.