I’m sure we used to all talk about something other than football committees, megalomaniacs and rebellious chairmen. Ah yes, that’s right. Actual, proper football.
The new season is almost upon us, and I think most people have forgotten about the fact that there will actually be some football played soon. Partick Thistle’s players will begin their mission to regain match sharpness against Paul Hartley’s Alloa Athletic on Tuesday night.
Jackie McNamara’s first issue is the loss of Paul Cairney. I cannot remember a player having such a turnaround in fortune, fitness and finesse in one single season. This was the player who once looked heavy, short of pace and had absolutely no confidence in his ability as a First Division player.
Last season, Paulo DiCairneyo was one of the stand out players in the league. It was no surprise to learn that several higher ranked clubs were interested in signing him up once his contract expired.
He eventually opted for Hibernian, after long negotiations, his stag do and his wedding. Good luck to the man. He is one player who has earned his move to the top league in Scotland.
Cairney suggested that his drastic change in form was down to McNamara giving him a free role in midfield. We would often see Cairney drifting off to either wing, collecting the ball from defence, as well as linking up with the forward players. I would suggest that Chris Erskine will fulfil this position in the coming season.
This creates another problem though, as Erskine and Cairney often linked up. McNamara doesn’t have many other options in the mould of Erskine and Cairney. He must consider other formations.
A look back at a former line up
Hugh Murray will be a regular starter, perhaps at the expense of David Rowson. Rowson, despite his enthusiasm and fitness, is not getting any younger and is now a part-time footballer. This could lead to a Murray/Paton midfield.
Paul Paton, another utility player, may however be used at the back, allowing Rowson to play a part in a starting eleven. We also cannot forget about Stuart Bannigan’s form towards the end of the season, both in midfield and on the left wing, or Sean Welsh’s eye for goal and angled passing ability, which could see him team up with Erskine in a freer role.
Mark McGuigan has impressed since his arrival at Firhill. He is a tall, athletic striker who has shown that he has a predatory, poacher instinct. While Kris Doolan is an excellent front man, his goals rarely come from easy chances. They come from hard work, working angles and spectacular long range efforts.
McGuigan is an ideal partner for the hard working, considerate Doolan. I’m not convinced that McNamara will always have the luxury to play two strikers, but by having the options of McGuigan and the pacy Christie Elliot, he has shown that he is aware of the need to have a Plan B and C.
Other new signings have come in the form of Aaron Muirhead and Steven Lawless. Lawless is an interesting choice. Wingers are rarely used in the First Division, but perhaps McNamara noted Derek Adams’ use of ex-Jag Marc Corcoran last season and is keen to offer the team width from the bench should opposition sides look to enter into a stuffy, unattractive midfield battle.
Muirhead, used mostly as a right back at his previous club, will be used sparingly and can be seen as competition for Stephen O’Donnell, whose performances last season ranged from dynamic to dismal. McNamara has previously stated concerns about O’Donnell’s mentality. One could argue that competition for places could encourage the ex-Celtic youth to work harder on a more consistent basis.
The one area of the pitch that the manager does not have to concern himself with is in goals. McNamara has, in Scott Fox, one of the best young goalkeepers in the country.
As back-up, he has the increasingly able Ryan Scully. Some fans will remember Scully’s mistakes in the home defeat to Livingston. Others will remember his four top drawer saves in the same game.
Fox learned last year that his position in the team is not written in stone, any loss in form will allow Scully in. Goalkeeping coach Craig Hinchcliffe has done an incredible job with both of these players. He is one of the most valuable assets at the club.
In conclusion, Jackie McNamara has made some shrewd signings since taking on the role as manager on a full time basis. He has, above all, given himself options. He currently has a first eleven capable of playing flowing, entertaining football. He also has the personnel to completely change the dynamic of the team.
We have ball playing defenders. We have hard, no nonsense defenders. We have silky midfielders, comfortable on the ball. We have ball winning, borderline insane midfielders. We have a thinking front man. We have pacey forwards, we have big forwards.
Jackie McNamara now has the difficult job of keeping some very young feet on the ground. A lack of consistency was the problem last season. If consistency comes with entertaining football, we could have a very, very good season.
Possible starting eleven
You can follow Vinny Ferguson on Twitter @vbl1986