Why it makes sense
For the club
Lyle Taylor was the big departure for Alan Archibald this summer. The on-loan English striker added a new dimension to the Thistle attack that made him more valuable than Kris Doolan even though the latter had done little wrong to lose his job. However, had Thistle managed to capture someone to play the No.10 position earlier then Taylor may not have been needed. Instead a rotation of Stuart Bannigan, James Craigen and Prince Buaben was used with none of them even registering a league goal. Bringing in Stevenson to provide a threat behind Doolan means that, while this is not a like-for-like replacement with Taylor, it is a replacement of sorts.
Stevenson can be completely unplayable on his day. His last game for Hearts came in the 5-0 demolition of Kilmarnock where he netted three and notched two assists during a performance that truly had to be seen to be believed. Possessing a rare mix of strength and technique he is a nightmare to defend when in the mood, not to mention his finishing abilities which are up there with any midfielder in the top flight.
Should he perform in a Thistle jersey then the fans will enjoy all the pleasures from a true cult hero. It’s debatable how sincere he is, but Stevenson knows all the right things to say to have home fans swooning over him. He’s a legend at Ayr United and left a number of Hearts fans unhappy with his departure despite his inconsistent performances last season.
For the player
Having been treated rather shabbily by Hearts – though in truth he was more a victim of the change in ownership rather than being cast away by the club – he keeps his pride in tact by remaining in the top flight and looking down on those who decided he wasn’t worth paying a four figure sum every week.
For those who don’t know, Stevenson voluntarily took a 50% wage cut when Hearts went into administration. However, instead of receiving the full sum once the club pulled out of the perilous process he actually wound up with a prospective pay packet earning 25% of his former wage due to a clause in his contract triggered by relegation. Stevenson wanted his loyalty repaid; Ann Budge, Craig Levein and co saw it as a new chapter and drew a line in the sand – Stevenson would receive what was in his contract or he could walk. Smartly, Stevenson remained a Hearts player while he found a new club before negotiating a release shortly before signing with Thistle.
He’ll remain a first team regular should he be able to win and cement the role in pre-season. He’s played a number of different positions during his time in the top flight, though the attacking centre midfielder is supposed to be his strongest. As Thistle have no other natural fits to play in the hole, he’s certainly landed on his feet.
Why it doesn’t
For the player
Pride can be a terrible thing sometimes. In the first section we alluded to Stevenson making empty gestures. That’s perhaps a cynical way of looking at things. Maybe he really meant what he said at Hearts. Maybe Tynecastle was where he wanted to finish his career. Maybe he literally would have went to the moon for the club. After all, he never mixed words when he left the club initially – disillusioned by the dishonesty of the Romanov era and feeling a fresh start was the best course for his family. And, at the end of the day, the contract he was going to be under at Hearts next season was one he signed. If he didn’t want to receive such a paltry salary then maybe he could have done more to help prevent such a scenario. Besides, helping Hearts back into the Premiership at the first time of asking would likely have guaranteed him a new deal on equal, or better, wages than he was taking last year. Only Stevenson will know his true feelings. Did he love playing for Hearts? If he did then this may be a decision he comes to regret.
If he was talking out his backside he’ll probably be fine.
For the club
Thistle certainly needed a No. 10, but is Stevenson definitely the right man? He’s a Jekyll and Hyde player joining a team that already has far too many of those. What’s more, his style doesn’t really seem to fit Thistle on first glance.
Perhaps Archibald is trying to implement a new dimension to the team. Heaven knows they could certainly do with it. Thistle may have been terrific to watch at times but there was little counter strategy for when plan A went awry. Putting in a big body who could help hold the ball up and barge open spaces for the quick feet of Kallum Higginbotham and Steven Lawless can be a great thing for their style of play. Well, that’s the theory anyway. Archibald’s inflexibility means it probably won’t be a reality. If that’s the case and Thistle try to continue with their pass and move style then Stevenson really isn’t a good fit. For a 21st century No.10 he is frightfully immobile at times. It’s a strange observation in itself because there are some games where he’s everywhere, but then there’s matches like the last Edinburgh derby. With a storm swirling around him Stevenson took on the persona of an elderly gentleman fishing in the eye of a hurricane. Unfortunately, that’s not a rare event. He goes missing from games without any rhyme or reason: sometimes a warrior; other times a shrinking violent.
He has the ability to come alive where there’s greater exposure. For Hearts that meant meetings with Hibs, games on the TV and League Cup Finals. For a Thistle squad looking to avoid the apparent “second season syndrome” there will be a number of important games but very few of them could be described as high profile. And those that are (i.e. games against Celtic) are almost unwinnable. He’s the right position for what they were needed, but he needn’t necessarily be the right fit.