Kilmarnock manager Lee Clark believes Partick Thistle may be developing a sudden dread of the drop which his team could exploit as they bid to escape from the Premiership play-off spot.
Thistle have lost their last three games and are now just six points in front of Kilmarnock ahead of the potentially pivotal meeting of the sides at Rugby Park on Saturday.
In contrast, Clark’s men have revitalised their survival hopes by winning two of their last three matches, including last weekend’s 4-0 defeat of Hamilton Accies, which cut the gap on the New Douglas Park outfit to four points.
“Maybe Partick are starting to get a bit of fear factor for the first time this season,” said Clark.
“They were probably looking at the top six before the split happened. Then they maybe thought about consolidating and finishing as high as they could in the bottom six of the league.
“But, obviously with the results and the way the fixtures have fallen, if we beat them on Saturday, they are right in amongst it.
“It depends on how their players react to that situation. It could have an effect. They might also have a bunch of players who could react in a positive way knowing they have to produce a performance.
“One thing Partick have been renowned for this season has been a good defensive record, so for them to concede four at home to Inverness last weekend was quite a unique situation. I’d imagine they’ll be hurting at that and not wanting to concede goals as they did against Inverness.
“My players have been around it most of the season. Our job, since I got here, was to stay in the league.
“Momentum is a big thing in sport and we are hoping we can now continue with it. I hope we can gain the right amount of confidence from our last result and performance without getting over excited.
“We said straight after the Hamilton game that the biggest thing we have to look after are the final three games. The worst scenario is the teams around us don’t get results and we don’t look after our side of the situation.”
Clark did not enjoy an immediate bounce in terms of results after replacing Gary Locke as manager in February but he was confident from the start of his tenure that he had inherited a squad with the necessary resilience for the challenge ahead.
“I can tell in a dressing room if players have stomach for the fight,” added the former Huddersfield, Birmingham and Blackpool boss. “When we are giving them our thoughts and plans, if they don’t have the belief and can’t buy into it, that’s a real negative. But our players have tried to do it from the start.
“When I look back at the tough run against Hearts, Aberdeen and Celtic and we were unfortunate in those three games, the players were still sticking to the gameplan and producing good performances and good spells.
“I always had belief we’d get a bit of luck and things would change in our favour. That seems to have been the case.
“From day one, the players have had a belief that the information we are giving them is being taken on board. That shows me they are up for the fight and believing in what we are doing.
“If they are not believing, it’s game over. But they are doing and they are executing it well. They are producing the performances and playing with a lot of belief and confidence. Hopefully, the results will follow.
“The reaction from the support and the rapport between myself, the staff and the players since I got here has been excellent. We want to deliver a team that stays in this league and then build something new in the summer.”