It became almost boring to ask whether or not Thistle would find themselves sucked into the relegation battle last season and thankfully they were eventually able to pull themselves away, comfortably finishing eighth and 10 points ahead of the play-off berth.
The thing about Partick Thistle is that they can go on a run of five consecutive defeats, be written off, then come away from Tannadice with a victory, or attain their only win in seven in the shape of a 4-0 win away to high-flying Inverness.
You only have to look at the outcomes of their matches in the first half of the season to see that they are the definition what people would call ‘consistently inconsistent’. Their first 27 matches panned out like this: W-D-L-W-L-W-L-D-L-W-L-D-L-D-W-
All in all, however, it was a happy campaign. Their top flight existence only truly seemed in danger for a two week period and they recorded back-to-back victories for the first time since attaining promotion.
Former SPL Player of the Month and Hamilton Player of the Year Tomáš Černý looks an excellent piece of business from Alan Archibald. Černý’s performances for, at the time, a newly-promoted Hamilton side earned him a move to CSKA Sofia, where he spent two years, only losing his place in the starting line up when he refused to sign a contract extension in protest over a lack of wages. He definitely makes them stronger in the goalkeeping department.
Elsewhere in the team is where it starts to get a little patchy. Gary Miller is a dependable right back at this level but he doesn’t come close to filling the attacking void left by the departure of Stephen O’Donnell. Attacker David Amoo joined and we’ll have to wait until the season begins to see whether Archibald figures him to be a replacement for Kallum Higginbotham on the wing or Lyle Taylor in the striking corps. Either way he doesn’t have a great pedigree and represents a significant gamble. The same goes for Mathias Pogba who arrives with a name that’ll get fans excited – until they see glimpse at his club history. An underwhelming stint at Crawley following on from spells at both Wrexham and Crewe. Nevertheless, he appears to be quite a physical specimen and at the very least will add variance to Thistle’s attack.
The team also lost influential first-team members in Conrad Balatoni and James Craigen. With everyone fit there is enough cover in the middle of the park to mean Craigen, who was allowed to join Raith, won’t be missed, and if both Frederic Frans and Dan Seaborne can stay fit then they shouldn’t miss Balatoni too much at centre back, even if he did have a ridiculously strong second half of the last campaign.
In among the many success stories in Scottish football at the moment, the achievements of Alan Archibald appear to have been overlooked. When he initially took over from Jackie McNamara, it wasn’t just a case of continuing success, he actually improved the side in the promotion-winning season. McNamara couldn’t buy a win away from home; Archibald seemed to leave with the three points every week. He accomplished his next task of keeping Thistle in the top flight in their first season back and improved upon it in the last campaign, where he showed tactical flexibility to rein in the free-flowing, attacking full-back nature, and build the team around a solid base.
It’ll be interesting to see where Archibald stands in the minds of supporters at the end of this season, even if they stay up. A glance of the squad, as it stands, would tell you they’ve gotten weaker and merely avoiding relegation should be viewed as a success. But fans often want improvement and progression from year to year.
Key Player – Abdul Osman
Not only is the big English-Ghanian an effective screener for the back four, he’s got the ability to start Thistle‘s attacks. In fact, in the second half of last season he was responsible for around a quarter of Thistle‘s secondary assists.
This campaign his job will take on greater significance after the loss of Balatoni and the general weakening of Thistle‘s defensive depth. However, he rose to the occasion when handed the captain’s armband, thriving on the responsibility, and it’s no exaggeration to suggest Thistle‘s top flight status could hinge on whether he enjoys another excellent season.
4 Thistle players that need to take it up a level
1) Kris Doolan
Right Kris, no more mucking about. No more failing to hit a cow’s arse with a banjo for weeks on end and then rattling in four goals against one opponent; no playing well and then disappearing for a month, encouraging your manager to think Ryan Stevenson as a lone striker is a good idea.
It’s about time the striker put together a consistent season and force his manager to have more faith in him. Doolan’s ratio of minutes to goals has been excellent since Thistle were promoted, but for someone who has the skills to impact games outside the penalty area, we only tend to see it in glimpses.
2) Stuart Bannigan
At the age of 22 it’s time Bannigan started living up to his undoubted potential. Tough in the tackle with good technique and an eye for a pass, he has all the tools required to be a really great midfielder at the Scottish Premiership level. Sometimes he can take a game by the scruff of the neck, but he has to start doing it more often. Cutting out needless bookings and red cards also wouldn’t hurt.
3) Callum Booth
When Booth first burst onto the scene with Hibs, his attacking qualities from full-back were so impressive they earned him the nickname ‘Baby Bale’. A presumptuous moniker that may have been, his ability to alter games in the opposition half meant there was sincerity in the tag, even if it was laced with self-deprecating Scottish football irony. Since falling off a cliff at Hibs he’s does excellently well to build his career back up, and with Stephen O’Donnell gone the onus is on him to full that attacking full-back void from the other side of the park.
4) Christie Elliot
Jack of all trades, master of none. Elliot’s running power and tremendous work rate earned him a new two year deal. With Thistle’s paper thin squad, particularly in wider areas, he’ll likely be designated utility man once more, but the side could really benefit from Elliot sticking to one position, likely on the wing, and showing the sort of improvement Steven Lawless did in the last campaign.
Thistle to fail to adequately replace the players they lost and suffer through a gruelling season. A tough spine will see them difficult to beat, but they fail to pick up enough wins due to their lack of match-winners and confidence drops as a result. Will rediscover their fight in the relegation play-off final against Hibernian and remain in the top flight for another season.