PARTICK Thistle go into a busy festive schedule rooted to the bottom of the Scottish Premiership, four points adrift of Ross County and Dundee with a game in hand to come against Celtic at Parkhead.
It’s a similar tale to twelve months ago when the Jags were bottom of the table, and they had a rearranged trip to Celtic Park to come, and many observers were predicting that they’d be relegated at the end of the season.
Instead, Thistle went on a good run that took them to the top six, a Scottish Cup Quarter Final and saw Alan Archibald nominated as one of four contenders for manager of the year. Archibald was also linked with a move to League One side Oxford United, but that never came to fruition to the joy of the Jags faithful.
Right now, Archibald will be happy with tenth place if it was offered to him such has been Patrick’s slump. Their form has been poor since the start of the season, accumulating just eleven points and winning just twice in their 16 games so far.
Saturday’s 5-1 hammering at Kilmarnock, who hadn’t won at home all season prior to then, summed up the problems Thistle have. Defensively, they were a shambles. Individual mistakes, not defending as a unit, not reacting and elements of bad luck were on show at Rugby Park and have haunted them throughout the campaign. The loss of Liam Lindsay to Barnsley has been significant but there are still players in their back line, such as Niall Keown, who have enough about them to improve their performances on the pitch to help Thistle get out of their current predicament.
At the other end of the pitch, Partick are finding goals hard to come by. Summer signings Miles Storey and Connor Sammon have been woeful, just two goals for Storey and none for Sammon since their arrivals from Aberdeen and Hearts respectively. The fact their top scorer Chris Erskine, who netted on Saturday, only has four goals to his name sums up the problems Thistle have in attack. Combine that with a leaky defence and you have a recipe for disaster and it’s something Thistle need to sort out soon if they are to extend their top flight stay to a sixth consecutive season.
Blair Spittal is another signing who’s flattered to deceive. Much was expected of the former Dundee United player but he’s barely delivered and the Jags need more from the highly rated midfielder to create the chances for Thistle to start winning games again.
The manager himself will also need to be careful if he wants to remain in charge. Although Partick have already said once this season that they were backing Alan Archibald, they may be tempted to press the panic button if the winless run of four games continues and the deficit to those above them grows. The Partick board come across as a loyal one, and they’ve been vindicated by the fact they have survived comfortably in each of the last four seasons, but they will be aware of the reaction Kilmarnock have had from changing their manager and consider that option if things continue to slide.
Partick have six games in the next three weeks before the winter break, and they’ll be hoping to, at least, close the four point gap on their rivals. Crucially, one of those matches is at Dundee on Saturday and they also have a home match against Hamilton two days before Christmas, with midweek matches at home to Motherwell and the rearranged trip to Celtic before these respective weekend matches. Six points from those games would certainly be helpful in kickstarting their season and sucking their rivals back into the fight for survival.
Six games inside a 15 day period is a test for any side, let alone a Partick Thistle side who have one of the smaller squads in the league. However, they need to overcome that and use the motivation of getting the club out of the more to get them through this hectic schedule before they recharge their batteries in January.
Partick Thistle have done a lot right since they ended a nine year wait for top flight football in 2013. In addition to surviving and achieving a top six place, the club have also done well off the pitch with the sponsorship of their stadium, whilst retaining the Firhill identity, and have a new training ground on the way thanks to funding from Thistle supporting lottery winners. Dropping out of the top flight would be a blow to the progress the club has made over the past four and a half years.
They’ll be hoping that lightning strikes twice and that the festive programme kick starts their season, leading them to another season in Scotland’s top flight. However, if their current form continues, they’ll risk falling further adrift and their Premiership stay will be in serious jeopardy.
For Alan Archibald, he’ll be well aware that a quarter of the league have already changed their manager in hope of a change of fortune, and that he can’t rely on loyalty to keep him in a job unless results improve quickly.