PREDICTED LEAGUE FINISH: SIXTH
LAST SEASON: 9th, 46pts
NOTABLE INS: Ade Azeez (AFC Wimbledon), David Crawford (Alloa Athletic), Daniel Devine (Inverness Caledonian Thistle), Chris Erskine (Dundee United), Ziggy Gordon (Hamilton Academical), David Syme (Kilmarnock)
NOTABLE OUTS: Frederic Frans (Lierse), Paul Gallacher (Heart of Midlothian), Gary Miller (Plymouth Argyle), Aiden Nesbitt (Celtic, end of loan), Jordan Leyden, Danny Seaborne
LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (Departed players crossed out): Cerny, Dumbuya, Lindsay,
It's a bit of a shame that the only time that Partick Thistle registered in the minds of most outsiders this summer was when they raised a stink about the SPFL fixtures. For what it's worth, I had some sympathy with them; I too had assumed the league would go back to the old system where each team played two home games against one buttock of the Old Firm arse, and one against the other.
Having just a solitary Firhill visit from both Rangers and Celtic will leave Thistle more than £100,000 out of pocket, which is a double blow when you consider that teams like Inverness (who Partick will feel they should be competing with) are better off by the same figure. When annual wage bills are around £1.2 million, a £200,000 swing is very significant.
But Thistle haven't been behaving like a club forced to drastically cut their cloth. In the spring, it became clear that their three best out-of-contract talents - Abdul Osman, Steven Lawless and Stuart Bannigan - were all heavily coveted. Remarkably, all have chosen to remain at Firhill. Bannigan's re-commitment to the cause came partly because any hopes of finding a new club this summer were ruined by a knee injury, but Alan Archibald won't care.
Holding onto all three was unexpected and a huge boost. In fact, out of the players who left, only Danny Seaborne's departure was a shame. The bearded Englishman was the team's best central defender last season. But Archibald has been given sufficient resources to try and strengthen the squad. The aim this year is clearly not to be anywhere near the bottom two; even last season, Thistle came close to being dragged into the fray after the split.
The most impressive signing by some way is Ziggy Gordon, Hamilton's very capable right-back, who was expected to move much further up in the world than this. His one year contract suggests that the player fancies he can put himself back in the shop window with another good campaign; that's fine by Archibald, who desperately needed a new right-back after the excellent Mustapha Dumbuya ruptured his achilles tendon.
It was also mildly surprising that he was able to tempt Daniel Devine down from Inverness. The Ulsterman was a regular last season in the Highlands, though often erratic, but turned down a new deal there to move to the central belt. With Seaborne and Frederic Frans gone, Devine will be expected to slot straight in. It's an area which still concerns Jags fans though, as Liam Lindsay certainly has potential but is also accident-prone (how many young defenders aren't?) and ex-Killie youngster David Syme is one for the future. A rugged, broken-nosed centre back with a bit of beef and a lot of experience would be very welcome.
The midfield will be in excellent shape once Bannigan returns, especially if Chris Erskine makes hay in his third spell at the club; a Thistle top seems to have the same effect on him as a Scotland one had on James McFadden. With Ryan Edwards and David Amoo finishing last season strongly, Archibald is not short on options. Perhaps at last he can move on from the hard-working but limited Sean Welsh and chance on playing a third attacking midfielder most weeks, rather than the more defensive minded triumvirate of Welsh, Osman and Bannigan which stifles opponents but offers little going forward.
The key to success though will, as ever, be up front. Kris Doolan is coming off a career year, the first time he has hit double figures in the top flight and the first player to do so in their three seasons back at this level. Can he do so again? Whilst an intelligent player, he's often streaky in front of goal and it would be no surprise if he went two or three months without hitting the net. Archibald appears to have lost faith in Mathias Pogba, who got a new contract only after triggering an appearance clause in his old one; given that the Paul's much less talented brother scored only twice last year, that's understandable.
New arrival Ade Azeez might shake things up a bit; he has pace to burn, but is also six feet tall and sufficiently built. The question is whether he is any good; he spent the last two seasons as a perennial sub at AFC Wimbledon. If he just becomes the latest in a list of Thistle forwards to fail to supplant Doolan, it'll be hard to make top six.
But a top half finish is surely the aim. It'll not be easy, but on paper at least they look stronger than they have done in years, possibly decades. You might think me loopy (hey, you probably think that already) but I think they can do it.
And hey, if they don't, they've still got Kingsley. It's all good.
THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1995 in italics)
Goalkeepers: Tomas Cerny, David Crawford, Ryan Scully
Defenders: Callum Booth, Daniel Devine, Mustapha Dumbuya, Ziggy Gordon, Liam Lindsay, Matthew McInally, James Penrice, David Syme
Midfielders: David Amoo, Stuart Bannigan, Ryan Edwards, Christie Elliott, Chris Erskine, Gary Fraser, Steven Lawless, Declan McDaid, Abdul Osman, Sean Welsh, David Wilson
Forwards: Ade Azeez, Kris Doolan, Neil McLaughlin, Kevin Nisbet, Mathias Pogba
THE BEST XI?
Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.