Under Alan Archibald Partick Thistle were a refreshing addition to the Scottish Premiership. They overcame the more functional Greenock Morton in the promotion race, taking their open and expansive football into their first season in the top flight since 2003-2004. They started like they played their football, positively, with a draw at home to Dundee United before a 3-1 win at Ross County. They were seconds away from defeating Hearts in their third game but a late Jamie Walker strike would be a sign of things to come for Thistle at home.
Despite their exciting football it would take until February for Thistle to record their first home win in the league. One of only two they would enjoy in front of their home supporters all season.
However, survival was the aim and it is what they eventually achieved with even the possibility of a seventh place finish come the end of the season as they were one of five teams involved in the scrap to avoid the relegation play-off. While they enthralled neutrals with their way of style which encompassed creative and technical players, they also amused due to a number of defensive performances funnier then any comedian and which would sell-out crowds at the Edinburgh festival.
It has been a quiet transfer window at Firhill so far. They have added power to their forward line in the shape of Ryan Stevenson who has blossomed into a decent Premiership player. The former-Hearts player offers versatility, able to play in a variety of midfield positions as well as leading the line. He should be good for 5-10 goals this season but will offer more in tireless work rate and ability to combine with others in attack. Another signing of note has been Abdul Osman. The former Gretna midfielder will add steel and strength to the midfield which was missed when Isaac Osbourne suffered a season-ending injury.
As for those that have left Archibald will be hoping that Lee Mair made enough of an impression with his centre backs as the veteran has dropped down to the Championship. But by far the biggest blow is the departure of Aaron Taylor-Sinclair. His dynamism, quality and indefatigable ability to cover the entire left-flank will sorely missed even if he dropped off throughout the season. There will likely be more business done before the window SLAM SHUTS.
There were a number of questions surrounding Alan Archibald prior to last season, and we didn’t learn a whole lot in the 12 months in between. The former defender took over from Jackie McNamara and, in the immediate aftermath, did a better job with his former boss’s group of players. The doubts revolved around the fact it wasn’t his team. Paul Paton and Chris Erskine went, but the rest remained and by the end of the season, with Erskine having returned, there was still a strong core of McNamara players left in the starting eleven. Slowly but surely that number is reducing and we’ll see how Archibald handles the transition and how he operates in the transfer market. Other than the panic buys of Mark Kerr and John Baird, he’s done a decent job of recruiting – Paul Gallacher, Lee Mair, Lyle Taylor, Kallum Higginbotham – so that should stand Thistle in good stead for this coming year.
Thistle’s best player last season and likely best player this season is Kallum Higginbotham. The attacking midfielder impressed prior to Christmas and was just incredible down the last couple of months of the season. Such a dynamic player, Higginbotham is a threat to score and create in the final third and without him there’s a good chance Partick Thistle would have avoided the playoffs at the end of last season. Without Erskine and Taylor it’ll be up to him to continue his improvement because Thistle will be relying on him a lot. Should that form continue then just presume that the Glasgow club have avoided the drop once more.
Will we see a more pragmatic Partick Thistle?
The attacking freedom given to both of Thistle’s full-backs when they first entered the division really raised a few eyebrows. There were times when Stephen O’Donnell and Aaron-Taylor Sinclair made up two of the three Thistle players furthest forward on the park. When it became apparent that the centre backs were struggling to deal with the step up in class, and the midfield didn’t possess enough fire-power to sustain such a gung-ho style, their movement was reigned in a little. Now that Taylor-Sinclair has gone it will be interesting to see if such a tactical identity remains at all. O’Donnell found himself in and out of the line-up as the season went on, with the less flashy but more defensively sound Jordan McMillan taking his place at times.
Thistle were made up of smaller talents last season and, though their style seemed a little foolhardy, widening the match did have a certain reasoning. It allowed them to pass around their opponents instead of getting into a physical battle. The signings of Ryan Stevenson and Abdul Osman demonstrates a move to try and win those rough and tumble contests, which are particularly prevalent during the winter months where Thistle struggled last term.
Expect them to reign it in just that little bit more, but with the talents of Higginbotham, Kris Doolan and Stuart Bannigan they’re hardly going to revert to hoof-ball.
Thistle are hard to read because it still doesn’t seem as if their transfer activity is anywhere near done yet. It was an absolute nightmare trying to differentiate between all the bottom six clubs that escaped the playoffs last term, and we’re already a little unsure of our Ross County in 9th prediction. We originally said Thistle to struggle a little bit more in their second season and to finish in the playoff place, and we’ve got to stick with that.
Ryan Stevenson is a bit of a gamble and they’ll miss the alternative to Doolan, even though we really rate the remaining. Only being slightly worse than last year could be enough for the unthinkable to happen.
Finish: 11th Place