It’s possible that Craig Levein’s office wall right now resembles that of a hard-nosed police…
While they ended the season losing their last four matches, the 2016-2017 season should be considered a success for Partick Thistle. The club finished sixth in the Scottish Premiership table, its highest finish since being promoted back to Scotland’s top flight in 2012-2013. Off the field, Thistle announced in April that it would be building a £4million training complex of their own, something the club has never had before. Wherever you looked, it was an all round feel-good season for those at Firhill.
However, that feel-good factor has not carried over to this season for the Jags. Thistle have yet to win this season and only have three points in eight games. Going back to last season, the Jags have not won a Premiership match in their last 14 matches, and they sit second bottom only ahead of Kilmarnock on goals scored. So what has seen this drastic change from last season to this season?
Last season, Partick Thistle ended with 42 points, which worked out at 1.11 points per game. Compare this to the first eight games for Thistle so far, where they have collected three points in eight games: 0.38 points per game. If we look at some advanced stats for the Jags, last season they had an xG(Expected Goals) of 47.67, 1.26 xG per game and 57.31 xG against, 1.51 xG against per game.
Thistle’s attack was not anything to write home about over the course of the 2016/17 season. They finished ninth in goals scored and tenth in xG in the league. Kris Doolan was forced to carry much of the attacking load, scoring 14 league goals alongside an xG of 11.00, which was the fourth highest in the Premiership, accounting for 23.08% of Partick Thistle’s xG total.
While there was nothing special about their attack, you can pinpoint much of Thistle’s success to their play on the defensive side of the ball. The Jags allowed 1.51 xG per game, putting them fifth best in the Premiership, with only Celtic, Rangers, Aberdeen and Hearts allowing less. They were also fifth in shots conceded, conceding 426 or 11.21 per game. They were lowest in xG against per shot as well, with only Celtic conceding shots with a lower xG on average per shot.
If we fast forward to this season, the numbers paint a much bleaker picture for Partick Thistle. Along with their feeble points total so far this season, Thistle has an xG of 6.88 and a xG against of 17.53, for a xG difference of -10.65 so far this season. This means they have the second worst xG difference in the SPFL so far.
While last season they relied on their defence to earn a top half finish, this season they are averaging 2.19 xG against per match, clearly much worse than last season. Through eight matches, Thistle’s defence has not been the lynchpin to success it was last season.
To compound these issues that the Thistle defence is facing, the attack for the Jags has not helped to carry the slack. Thistle is averaging 0.86 xG per game, which is below last season’s average, which in itself was lower than the average from the rest of the league. These poor underlying statistics are being seen on the pitch, with Thistle only scoring eight goals in the league so far.
The notable search to find Doolan some help up front has so far turned up empty again, with summer additions Connor Sammon and Miles Storey adding a grand total of one league goal to the Jags campaign and a xG of 0.07 and 0.76 each. Doolan himself, usually Mr Reliable, has only scored once himself, even if he does have a respectable xG of 1.06. If it were not for the inspired play of Blair Spittal and Chris Erskine, who have each contributed three goals, the Thistle attack would be non-existent.
The fans at Firhill do have some hope in the play of Spittal and Erskine. In addition to his three goals, Spittal has also contributed four assists, has an xG of 1.26 and 0.33 per 90, which is 22nd in the league so far and a xA (Expected Assist) of 1.21 – 16th best in the league. Erskine has an xG of 0.96 and xA of 0.11 and with these underlying stats, we might not expect the attacking midfielder to continue to score at the pace he has thus far.
While these two have been in fine form, it has not been enough. Partick Thistle will need to improve both their attack and backline this season if they want to get away from the wrong end of the table. While not known for being a club strewn with wealth, it may take some shrewd and prudent spending in January to do this.
Many may point to last season for Thistle when comparing them to this season, highlighting how the Jags were bottom of the table in December yet still managed to finish in the top half. Why won’t it be the same this season? Well, Thistle had an xG difference last December that would suggest they were a fifth place team. Currently, that is not the case, as their second bottom place in the table is matched by the second worst xG difference thus far.
The only positive for Partick Thistle is that there are plenty of other teams in the Premiership who have suffered similar or even worse starts to the season. Kilmarnock also only have three points thus far and have sacked manager Lee McCulloch. Dundee have a similarly poor xG difference so far. There is still time for Partick Thistle to pull themselves away from the horrors of a relegation fight, but they will need to make a change on both sides of the ball.