Do Partick Thistle really improve as the season continues?

Do Partick Thistle really improve as the season continues?

By James Cairney

As always, it’s been an interesting season down at Firhill. The Jags’ campaign began with a run of nine league games without a win, but have since gained points against similarly-ranked teams – with a frustrating habit of seemingly getting beat every time they play the likes of Celtic, Rangers or Aberdeen.


It’s kind of been taken for granted over the last few seasons that the Jags will start slow and build up some momentum in the second half of a campaign. Here at TheTwoPointOne, we wondered: is this just a lazy stereotype peddled by the media, or is there actually some truth to it? We delved into the numbers to find out.


First thing’s first – when measuring a team’s performance before and after the winter break (or January, if the season predated the introduction of the winter break), the most obvious barometer is the average number of points gained during either period. A look at Thistle’s league results since Alan Archibald led them to promotion in 2013 highlights that, yes, there does appear to be an upswing in performances in the second half of each season.



Apart from 2015/16, the Jags have gained more points during the second half of the season in each of their recent Premiership campaigns. During the 14/15 season, their average points gained is only very slightly better; but still, it is better. Even this season (with an admittedly small sample of post-winter break matches) the adage still bears out: Thistle gain more points in the second half of the season. So problem solved, right?


Not exactly. Sure, this tells us that Thistle gain more points on average later in the season, but this could be for a number of factors. Maybe other teams aren’t as fit and struggle to keep up with the Jags physically. Maybe other teams naturally tail off towards the end of a season, or it could be the case that Archibald’s side are beginning each campaign with players who are still on the beach mentally.


A deeper look – and further evidence – is required, then. Another demonstrative factor that springs to mind is the amount of goals scored and conceded by Archibald’s team either side of the winter break. A cursory glance tells us what Thistle’s points per game record implies: that the Jags do have an unhappy propensity to be slow-starters in the Premiership.



The above graph shows this and it adds further credibility to the assumption that Partick Thistle generally improve as the season continues. Along with gaining more points on average, the Maryhill club score more goals and concede fewer during the second half of the season. Granted, this wasn’t the case in 14/15 or 16/17 but as a rule of thumb goal scoring/conceding is in line with the average amount of points gained per fixture.


Obviously, these stats go hand-in-hand; after all, if a team is winning, they’re more likely to be scoring more and conceding fewer than their opposition. But what this does show is a trend towards a higher level of performance later in the season for Thistle.


Perhaps another metric is required then, to cement the theory as true. Expected goals (xG) measure the number and quality of chances created both for and against a team during a match. Unfortunately, our xG data only goes back as the start of this season so we have a less-than ideal sample size. In order to gain some meaningful perspective through the lens of xG, the graph below compares Thistle’s xG from the opening 13 league matches of the season with the next 13.



As we can see, Archibald’s side are improving defensively, conceding fewer high-risk shots on goal than they were during their opening 13 matches. However, our data shows that the Jags’ attacking xG is decreasing by roughly the same amount. In short, they’re tighter at the back but Thistle aren’t creating as many clear-cut opportunities as they did at the beginning of the season.


All in all, then, it’s probably safe to say that Partick Thistle do generally improve during the second half of their Premiership campaigns. At this point of the season Jags fans can usually look forward to more points, goals and fewer goals against than previously but it might not be quite as plain sailing this time around. In a league where at least half the teams could genuinely fear relegation, Alan Archibald will be hoping history can repeat itself again for Thistle.

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