You didn’t need to wonder why these two Scottish football middleweights are proving such surprisingly feather touches in the country’s second tier after watching them at Firhill yesterday.
Partick Thistle’s inadequacies were laid bare in their inability to see out a winning position – not helped by losing Gary Harkins to an unjust red card – that prevented them swapping places with visitors Falkirk at the foot of the Championship. Ray McKinnon’s side, meanwhile, seemed fixated on containment as they failed to produce any sort of performance until a late rally with a man advantage snatched an unlikely draw.
Ultimately, though, this was a bad day for both sides courtesy of the set-up’s only part-timers, Alloa, winning against Morton to put the distance of six and seven points between them and Falkirk and Thistle respectively.
McKinnon chose to see the situation entirely differently on the back of extensively recasting his squad in this window and claiming a win at title-chasing Ayr United the previous week.
“Four points out of six with a lot of new players so we’re pretty pleased with that,” he said, the haul impressive in the context of the club having being pointless after eight games under predecessor Paul Hartley. “It was nice to get people off the bench like Davis Keillor-Dunn, Paul Paton, the squad is getting stronger. We wanted to keep it tight in the first half but we had our three best chances on the counter. On another day we could’ve nicked it.”
The first half was something of an invisible ink affair in that it disappeared from view leaving no noticeable trace. Thistle’s territorial domination eventually told just after the hour mark when a lung-busting forward run from Sean McGinty set him up to sweep the ball out to James Penrice on the left flank. He then swung in a cross that Blair Spittal took one touch to control, and without the cleanest contact, clipped into the corner.
A narky encounter then turned when Harkins clashed clumsily with Ross MacLean. On a yellow, referee Andrew Dallas surprised all by deeming the offence worthy of another caution and sent off the 34-year-old who only last week rejoined the Firhill club he played for a decade ago on an 18-month contract. Harkins had hardly trooped off down the tunnel when MacLean rubbed salt into Thistle’s wounds by delivering a measured inviting ball in from the left that fired goalward off the head of Ciaran McKenna. A scrambling, clawed save from Conor Hazard kept the ball out initially but Zak Rudden was then able to bundle the ball over.
In that moment, McKinnon’s decision to pitch Rudden into a game only a matter of hours after he had his loan from Rangers extended for the season was vindicated. The 18-year-old, whose goal was his eighth for Falkirk this season, had started the day believing only a strenuous session at his parent club awaited him, having returned to Rangers last week at the end of his original loan.
“I was in at Murray Park this morning, getting ready to train, when I got the call. It was all pretty rushed,” said the forward. “I’m really happy I got the call though – I need these games for my development. I’m enjoying every minute. Rangers took me back in, I trained all week with them from Tuesday – although I never got a trip to Tenerife out of it or managed to speak to the manager.
“It was disappointing not to get the win but it was good to get back and score a goal. I always felt it would come, that there would be a chance and I had to take it. We showed glimpses of how good we could be out there – with so many new players it’ll just take a bit of time.”
Time is on the side of neither Falkirk or Thistle, but Gary Caldwell is refusing to see the possibility of a slide to the third tier for the Firhill club, even allowing for the fact his team have taken only seven points from a possible 39 under his charge.
“One hundred per cent we can get out of the situation,” the Thistle manager maintained. “I think you see in the team. We can get out of it. There’s still business to be done in January. We need one or two players. The ones we’ve brought in have made a positive impact. The others we bring in will make a positive impact. I know we will be OK because of the way we play. Once we get that win, that confidence, we will build on that. A lot has gone against us recently and we have to keep believing.”