DUNDEE UNITED'S seemingly inevitable march to the Championship title moved one step closer last week after Robbie Neilson's side recorded a slender 1-0 win over Queen of the South at Palmerston.

It is looking increasingly unlikely that anyone will be able to catch the Taysiders this season as they look to end their four-year exile from the Premiership, but the league leaders face a tricky test when they travel to Glasgow's west end this afternoon.

Partick Thistle had to settle for a draw at the Indodrill Stadium last weekend, in large part due to the heroics of Alloa goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald, but the Jags have put together a decent run of form over the last two months and could provide a potential banana skin for United at Firhill today.

Ian McCall's side have lost two of their last 10 games in all competitions and there are signs that the former Ayr United manager is turning things around in Maryhill. The visit of Lawrence Shankland and Co. today, though, should provide a good barometer of just how far Thistle have come under their new manager.

United favourites on paper

Both fixtures between the two clubs earlier this season were tight affairs; when they met at Firhill in the second league fixture of the season, United came from behind to record a 2-1 win and at Tannadice, Shankland's second-half goal was all that could separate the two sides.

The visitors go into today's match as the clear favourites - and with good reason, too. Thistle have the worst home record in the league so far this season, while Dundee United boast the best away points haul. McCall was left bemoaning his side's profligacy in front of goal in the wake of their 1-1 draw at Alloa and Neilson's side have the stingiest defence in the Championship. On paper, at least, the game should only result in one outcome.

Jags' danger men

That is not to say that Thistle cannot cause Neilson's side problems, however. Thistle right-back Ryan Williamson is in a good spell of form at the moment and his surging, overlapping runs down the right flank often see him getting into good positions, albeit if his final ball is a little lacking.

Keeping Reece Cole quiet in midfield will surely be a priority for Neilson, too. The on-loan Brentford youngster has been in superb form for the Jags since returning from injury and his excellent technical ability makes him a real handful in the middle of the park. Composed on the ball and with an eye for the spectacular - Cole had two excellent 35-yard strikes against Alloa last week that could have easily went in - the 21-year-old is a crucial cog in the Jags midfield. If United can nullify Cole, they will give themselves a far greater chance of sealing another three points.

United must test Fox

For United, Neilson will surely be hoping it is business as usual but one area where Thistle have looked vulnerable in recent weeks is between the sticks. There is no question that Scott Fox is an excellent shot-stopper at this level but there are other areas of his game that can occasionally let him down.

Fox's positioning has, at times, been questionable this season and this is an area that Neilson will surely be asking Shankland to exploit this afternoon. Against Alloa last week, the Thistle keeper was stood behind the goal-line at a corner-kick and produced a fine stop from a Mark O'Hara header early on.

However, it could have easily been a goal - the home players were adamant that the ball crossed the line - and had the referee given it, Fox would have had to accept the blame. By standing just a yard further forward, the risk of conceding would have been considerably reduced. This may well be just one case but it is far from an isolated incident this season.