Things aren’t going so well for Partick Thistle. Not only are they languishing dangerously close…
On Tuesday night, Partick Thistle made the long journey up to the Highlands for a relegation six-pointer against Ross County. Alan Archibald’s side went into the game knowing that a win would see the Jags pull six points clear of County going into the split, as well as gaining the psychological advantages that come with victory over a rival side.
But they didn’t win. County dominated the game from start to finish and ran out comfortable 4-0 winners, picking up their first win in six attempts and leapfrogging Thistle in the table. To make matters worse for the Jags, the game also resulted in an eight-goal swing in goal difference, opening up an eleven-goal chasm between themselves and the Highland outfit.
These are worrying times for Partick Thistle. Since they were first promoted to the Premiership back in 2013, never before has the threat of relegation been so realised. With just six games left in the season, Archibald finds his team dead last in the table, with comfortably the worst goal difference in the division and without a win in his last nine fixtures.
Archibald’s position as manager is under threat if results don’t pick up soon. As the top flight’s longest-serving manager, it’s unlikely the board would relieve him of his duties before the end of the season. Thistle are a club that are generally loyal to their coaches and Archibald has achieved enough over the last few years to deserve the opportunity to turn things around.
And yet, it’s only prudent to have a contingency plan in case the worst happens and Thistle’s five-year run in the Premiership is brought to an end. Fans and pundits alike will speculate over who Archibald’s replacement will be in the event of relegation, but this approach would be reactionary and downright wrong. If Thistle were to go down, Archibald would remain the club’s best hope of coming back up.
First of all, Partick Thistle need to be realistic about where the club traditionally lies within the Scottish football hierarchy. Last year’s sixth-place finish was never going to be repeated, especially with the rise in the Premiership’s standards this season. Hibs’ arrival has shuffled the rest of the teams down a peg, while others, like Kilmarnock and Motherwell, have improved dramatically.
The graphic above shows the Jags’ league finishes over the last 20 campaigns. 1-12 is the Premiership, 13-22 is the Championship, and so on. As we can see, Thistle’s average final position over the last two decades is around 19th in Scotland overall – mid-table in the Championship.
This can be a sobering truth for Thistle supporters, but it’s the reality of the situation. There are about ten clubs in a similar position – think Dundee, St Mirren or Dunfermline – where the term ‘yo-yo club’ fits perfectly. They’ll go up, spend a few years in the Premiership, then come down again. There’s no shame in it but most clubs in the bottom half of the Premiership and the upper half of the Championship rarely manage to consolidate their position in the top-flight for the long-term. There are only two positions up for grabs each season and with so many clubs of a similar level, some have to miss out sometimes.
This is a crucial perspective to gain for Thistle fans. By taking a long-term, big-picture view we can see that at some point or another, they will get relegated. It might not be this season or the next, but it will happen eventually. It’s how the Jags react that will define the following few campaigns. The reactionary nature of football will demand change in management but this would be a grave error from the board at Firhill.
Should Partick Thistle get relegated this season, they already have the ideal manager to regain their place in the top flight. Archibald’s spell in charge of the club has been the most successful period in the club’s recent history, even surpassing the league finishes claimed under club legend John Lambie. Fair enough things haven’t gone well this season but for the vast majority of his time in Maryhill, Archibald has been nothing short of a revelation.
In the Championship, Thistle would have a manager who knows the league and has won it before. Not to mention an additional couple of hundred Premiership games under his belt, giving him greater experience and tactical knowledge than anyone else that Thistle could appoint. They’d have a coach who knows the players and how to get the best out of them, and a quick-moving possession-based system that is well-suited to the Championship.
Now we could be getting ahead of ourselves here, there are still six games to go in the Premiership and Archibald could still drag his side out of the mix. But relegation will happen eventually. If it is to be this year, the Thistle board must make retaining Archibald, not scapegoating him, their highest priority. After all, he’s the Premiership’s longest-serving manager for a reason.