JOHN Lambie was one of the great characters of Scottish Football!
His passing last week brought back many memories the man from Whitburn created in his time as a manager. His ability to get the best out of unfashionable players at unfashionable clubs with his unique methods are legendary in the game, and you always smiled when you heard his name mentioned in conversation.
Lambie is best remembered for his work at two clubs – Partick Thistle and Hamilton Academical – whom he each won two promotions to Scotland’s top flight. How ironic that this weekend sees the two go head-to-head at Firhill in a crucial match at the bottom of the Premiership. Sadly, both sides go into the game on the back of horrendous runs that summarises their respective struggles all season, and both are looking to put a halt to that and take a big leap towards survival.
Accies defeat by Kilmarnock on Saturday was their fifth consecutive loss, preventing them from pulling away from trouble having been unbeaten in the previous three matches. It’s summed up their season where they’ve went through a few games without loss and looking as though they would ease their relegation worries, only to then go on a losing run of six or seven matches that keep them in trouble.
Under Lambie, they were a yo-yo team who won promotions in both 1985/86 and 1987/88 whilst being relegated in 1986/87. They also caused a great Scottish Cup shock by dumping Graeme Souness’s multi-spending Rangers side with a famous 1-0 win at Ibrox. He left midway through the 1988/89 season to go to Firhill, briefly returned in 1989/90 before doing another U-turn to go back to the Jags. The great job he done with Hamilton is still acknowledged by the Accies faithful to this day.
Current manager Martin Canning has managed to keep the club up in each of the last three seasons, with last campaigns survival achieved through the playoffs, and has overseen the clubs first League win at Ibrox in 89 years. Having taken the reigns from Alex Neil in January 2015, Canning hasn’t always been popular with the Hamilton fans, mainly because the style of football hasn’t been of the standard set by Neil. However, he’s achieving the clubs main aim in staying in the top flight consecutively. If that extends to a fifth term, the longest top flight stay in the clubs history since 1947, then he’s got to get more credit for the work he’s done given the budget he has to work with compared to others in the League.
Partick, on the other hand, go into Saturday’s match on a horrendous run of form. No wins in ten matches, throwing away six points from winning positions against rivals Dundee and Hamilton, being pummelled 4-0 by struggling Ross County and no goals in the last five games. Add that to the fact they are the divisions lowest scorers and have shipped the most goals, it is a recipe for disaster for the Jags.
For Alan Archibald, who led his side to the top six last season in a campaign that saw him shortlisted for Manager of the Year, it is a shock to the system for a team who’ve had their longest top flight stay since John Lambie’s side in the early to mid 90’s. Archibald didn’t expect the top six again but his summer recruitment suggested that they would survive comfortably with the arrivals of Blair Spittal, Connor Sammon and Miles Storey adding more goals at the other end. Unfortunately for Thistle, they have been erratic and the loss of highly rated defender Liam Lindsay has left a gaping hole not filled by any of his successors.
Lambie’s first and second spells and Firhill were only interrupted by a brief return to Accies. Promotion was won in 1992 and he kept them up quite comfortably before leaving for Falkirk, who he played for as a player, in 1995. He returned in 1999 to find Thistle struggling in Scotland’s third tier having just went through the “Save the Jags” campaign to keep the club afloat. Again, he worked wonders, winning promotion to the First Division in 2001 then achieved a second consecutive promotion to the SPL, again comfortably surviving the following season before he retired. He did return briefly in 2004 before the club appointed Dick Campbell.
His legacy has been difficult to follow until recently and Archibald, a young player who excelled under Lambie during the early 2000’s, has managed that by leading the club to survival and a best League position for 36 years. He’ll be hoping that history of the 1980/81 side doesn’t repeat itself as that team were relegated the following season but he’ll need to ensure his side are properly prepared in these last five games for a battle they’ve not looked up for all season. If Partick can turn their ailing season around and preserve their Premiership status for a fifth consecutive season then it would, arguably, be a greater achievement for Alan Archibald than the top six of last season.
Five games for Partick Thistle and Hamilton Academical to save their season and stave off the big threat of relegation. With both sides on terrible form, there is a great opportunity for one of them to get that vital win to gather momentum urgently required if either are to preserve their Premiership status for next season. Partick would happily take a second bite in the playoffs whilst Accies don’t want a repeat of last seasons nervy playoff double header, or worse by being hauled to the bottom of the table at the end of the 38 matches.
They’ll pay their respects to their legendary manager John Lambie before Saturday’s crunch match, and both will be hoping to make the great man proud by defying the odds and remaining Scottish Premiership clubs.
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