perform under pressure?
Pressure changes people. Having a level of expectation to meet tends to either bring out…
Things aren’t going so well for Partick Thistle. Not only are they languishing dangerously close to Ross County at the bottom of the Scottish Premiership table, but Alan Archibald’s side have also picked up just one point from their last five league games – the worst return in the division.
Although the blonde-tipped coach has worked wonders at Firhill for the best part of five years, Glasgow’s third club looks dangerously close to finally running out of luck and getting dragged in to a relegation play-off spot or even automatic elimination from the top division.
With three games left to play and then a whole round of fixtures in the Premiership split, now seems like a good time to take stock of Thistle’s stats and to decipher whether or not the Jags are going to be relegated in May.
Before the split and clashes against the rest of the bottom six, Thistle have an away trip to Easter Road where they will face Hibernian and then an even further trip up to Dingwall, before a final, home clash against Steve Clarke’s Kilmarnock side. If we take each game one by one we can quickly deduce what Thistle fans should expect or perhaps predict from them.
Hibs away is undoubtedly a test that is probably beyond Archibald’s grasp. Not only have Neil Lennon’s side comfortable disposed of Thistle twice this season but when the two sides meet on March 31 they’ll be smack in the middle of a race to catch Aberdeen and Rangers and pip them to second place. Anything at all from this match should be considered a gift.
However, the following tie against Ross County is unquestionably one the club should be applying all of their resources towards. Although the data isn’t entirely encouraging, with Thistle’s away form this season offering just 0.47 points per game – a figure that falls short of County’s own rather dismal home record of 0.73 points per game – there are still reasons to be hopeful.
Having picked up a point at Dingwall earlier in the season and then a 2-0 win over the Highland side in December, Archibald’s team should be confident of challenging for all three points or at the very least ensuring Stuart Kettlewell’s side don’t snatch the win and leapfrog the Maryhill club in to eleventh place.
Indeed, the task becomes even more important when you then consider that the final clash before the split against Kilmarnock is unlikely to offer much solace. Although Clarke’s side may have begun powering down after clinching a top-half finish at that point there’s nothing to suggest from their two comfortable wins over Thistle this season that this fixture is going to swing in favour of the relegation battlers.
Even if Thistle can grab three points from their next three games, the team will still have to claw back a number of points in the split if they are to leapfrog Dundee and put some distance between themselves and the play-off spot.
Initially, there is some optimism to suggest that Archibald’s side should do rather well in the split when faced against teams around them at the bottom of the table. Of the four teams in question – Hamilton, Dundee, Thistle and County – the Firhill side have the best points-per-game ratio against bottom six teams, as shown in the graph above.
Although 1.5 points per game may not seem like much compared to 1.1 or 1.3, it does suggest that Thistle are more likely to win these crucial head-to-head games. Even if it is only by the slightest margin. And as we’ve seen countless times in the long history of Scottish football when a team picks up one or two wins in a row it can often galvanise them on to doing even better.
When we calculate how many points the four teams in question should take from their remaining pre-split fixtures and then add that to their bottom-six head-to-head records we can then make a broad prediction as to how many points each team will finish the season on. As seen in the graph below.
As we can see, Thistle should begin to pull away from County before the split and then even further during the final stages of the season. Although Archibald’s side face three tough tasks, the Highland club are also tasked with getting the best of Celtic and Hibs – which is unlikely to happen.
However, while Thistle should pick up 11 points between now and the end of the season the data also suggests that Dundee will claim nine, while Hamilton also pick up a further 11 points. Suggesting that despite a strong split Thistle still won’t do enough to pip Dundee to that crucial tenth spot.
Of course, there is only one point between the two clubs. Which is more than enough reason to suggest that the final points tally for both sides could fluctuate even slightly and allow an advantage for the Jags. Either way, it looks as though the battle for that relegation play-off spot will come down to a straight head-to-head between Thistle and Dundee.