Celtic; Dundee; Hamilton Accies; Hearts; Hibernian, Kilmarnock; Motherwell; Rangers; Ross County; St. Johnstone
PREDICTED LEAGUE POSITION: Seventh
LAST SEASON: 6th, 42pts
NOTABLE INS: Niall Keown (Reading, loan made permanent), Milan Nitriansky (Bohemians 1905), Jamie Sneddon (Cowdenbeath), Blair Spittal (Dundee United), Jordan Turnbull (Coventry City, loan)
NOTABLE OUTS: David Amoo (Cambridge United), Ade Azeez (Cambridge United), Liam Lindsay (Barnsley), Matthew McInally (Cowdenbeath), Mark Ridgers (Inverness Caledonian Thistle), David Wilson (Dumbarton), Jason Banton (Crawley Town, end of loan), Sean Welsh
LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (Departed players crossed out): Cerny, Elliott, Keown,
Last season was Partick Thistle's best in thirty-six years, as they deservedly broke into the top six (this is the point where I note that I predicted them to pull it off in last season's preview, and you all thought I was mad. Mad, I tell you!!!).
And yet it actually could have been even better. Thistle had their customary slow start to the campaign, and had a terrible tendency to concede late goals that cost them points. Coming away with nothing from two home games against Rangers, having led both with ten minutes to go, was catastrophic.
But, especially in the second half of the season, they were a pretty decent football team. And like most decent teams, it was because of a strong defensive backbone. The loan addition of Niall Keown - Martin's son - to play alongside revelation Liam Lindsay in central defence meant that Adam Barton, one of the best signings in the league last season, could step up into midfield alongside Abdul Osman, where they formed the most muscular duo since the Legion Of Doom, but with rather more panache.
Add in a good goalie in Tomas Cerny, impressive form from Steven Lawless and Chris Erskine in midfield and Kris Doolan chipping in with enough goals to get by and you have a very tricky opponent indeed. Add in some impressive off-field developments, such as the huge investment in their youth setup, and it's a very good time to be a Real Jag.
Lindsay has gone, which was expected, but Keown has returned permanently, which wasn't. This writer thought the former was overrated and the latter underrated, so he thinks Alan Archibald is up on the deal. Jordan Turnbull has arrived on loan from Coventry to fill the gap left by Lindsay; he struggled in English League One last season but Alan Archibald will hope to revitalize him.
Otherwise the first XI is pretty much as is, and new arrival Blair Spittal certainly has the potential to add to it. Having missed last season, Stuart Bannigan is like a new signing too - though how he dislodges one of Barton, Osman and the busy Ryan Edwards is unclear. So now the concern is depth. Up front there's only Doolan and a couple of kids, since Ade Azeez - who seemed to miss three one-on-ones in every game - has left, and whilst Doolan's linkup play is outstanding his lack of physical presence means that he is only so effective as a lone striker, and his goalscoring form tends to be streaky. Archibald would love a big powerful forward who can lead the line and score fifteen league goals, but wouldn't everyone?
Right-back is the other issue. Mustapha Dumbuya is perenially injured, while Christie Elliott is serviceable in that role but is still basically a converted winger, and little is known of new signing Milan Nitriansky.
The trouble for Thistle is that convential wisdom (for what it's worth, which isn't much) is that there's only really one top six spot up for grabs as Celtic, Rangers, Aberdeen, Hearts and Hibs all have such superior resources. Certainly they need to move forward just to stand still. But overcoming the likes of St. Johnstone, Dundee et al to be the 'best of the rest' is a tall order even if they continue where they left off last season.
But conceding fewer late goals would certainly do the trick.
THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1996 in italics)
Goalkeepers: Tomas Cerny, Ryan Scully, Jamie Sneddon
Defenders: Callum Booth, Daniel Devine, Mustapha Dumbuya, Ross Fleming, Niall Keown, Milan Nitriansky, James Penrice, Jordan Turnbull
Midfielders: Stuart Bannigan, Adam Barton, Ryan Edwards, Christie Elliott, Chris Erskine, Gary Fraser, Mark Lamont, Steven Lawless, Andrew McCarthy, Abdul Osman, Blair Spittal
Forwards: Kris Doolan, Neil McLaughlin, Kevin Nisbet
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.