Bottom of the Premiership in December, Partick Thistle’s top-six charge was sharper than any of the iconic prickly plants they are named after.
They aren’t content simply with a top-half finish and are now out to overhaul fifth-placed Hearts, starting on Saturday at Tynecastle.
The Edinburgh side are four points better off than their overachieving Glasgow opponents as the Premiership’s post-split fixtures begin. That gap is very much seen as surmountable by a Thistle team bringing serious momentum to the Capital.
The astute Alan Archibald has secured Partick’s best finish in 36 years since they came sixth in 1981. He has done so on a paltry budget which is the second smallest in the division. The achievement will earn the club up to £500,000 in extra revenue as they prepare to host Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen at Firhill before the season ends.
The magnitude of the turnaround is still sinking in up in Maryhill. Thistle sat bottom of the league four months ago before an astonishing ascent up the table. Archibald is only 39 and four years into his first managerial job but is succeeding where others often fail with impressive man-management. He is even making non-playing squad members feel part of the success.
“The manager has been brilliant the way he’s done things. I’ve only been here since January but to lose only three league games – two of them against Aberdeen and Rangers – is massive credit to the team. They’ve been playing really well and they deserve the plaudits coming their way,” said Mark Ridgers, the former Hearts goalkeeper now second choice at Firhill behind Tomas Cerny.
“Defensively, they’ve looked solid. As I’ve always said in this league, when you have a goalscorer it really helps. Wee Kris Doolan is popping up with big goals.”
Doolan’s record of nine in his last 18 games since Christmas is the obvious catalyst for Partick’s resurgence. “For the club to get into the top six is massive, especially the way they did it,” continued Ridgers. “I wouldn’t say it was done comfortably but you look where they are. The club haven’t finished in the top six for 30-odd years. For a lot of people, this is something different. Not looking over their shoulders for the next five games is a big thing for them. It gives them an opportunity to go out and express themselves.
“Obviously I don’t know myself what other teams are spending but you look at it from the outside and you get a rough idea that certain teams spend a bit more than others. Thistle have a good team spirit and a good bunch of lads who work for each other.
“They weren’t on a good run when I got there. To be bottom in December and go and finish in the top six is a massive credit to all the boys. They’ve been flying since Christmas and the manager has been fantastic. You see the players all get on well with him. That’s key. If the players and manager are on the same side, you’re going to get results because the players will work for the manager. That’s what’s happened.”
Ridgers, now 26, played for seven years at Tynecastle but couldn’t establish himself as first-choice goalkeeper and left in 2014. He spent 2016 in America’s United Soccer League with Orlando City B and returned to Scotland last December looking for a club.
“I spoke to some people about Partick Thistle. I went up to watch them at Ross County and they won,” he said. “I could see they play really good football and they deserved that win. I watched them at Tynecastle as well when they drew 1-1. Jack Hamilton had a couple of really good saves for Hearts that day, so they had chances.
“The boys told me after I signed that they felt unlucky in some of the games. They thought they were doing enough to get points but weren’t getting the luck. Sometimes it goes for you in football and sometimes it doesn’t.
“I joke with all the boys that I’m the sideline mascot and that’s why things have picked up since I signed. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason. They changed formation to three at the back and that’s helped. Defensively, they don’t give away many chances.
“Tomas Cerny is doing well in goal, Liam Lindsay and Danny Devine have been solid in defence with Niall Keown, who came in on loan from Reading. That’s important. If you keep the opposition out and you have a goalscorer in your team, there’s always a chance.”
Realistically, Ridgers knows he will need to move on this summer if he wants regular football. “I’m here till the end of the season. I haven’t spoken to Partick yet,” he said. “I’ve been in a few of these situations over the last few years. I’m going to see what options are available and do what’s best for myself.
“You’re looking for a stable contract for three or four years but that doesn’t really happen now. Hopefully we can finish well with Thistle and if I can get one or two games in over the next month then it would be good. Then I’ll sit down with my agent and see what’s best.
“I’m one of those people, I don’t know if it’s bad luck or what, I just find myself in a situation I can’t really do much about. At Hearts, the goalkeepers always did really well when I was there. At St Mirren, things went against me. I don’t think my performances were anything to do with that, really.
“I got a full season in America so I’ve got games behind my belt. I’ve played over 150 competitive games so it would be nice to get a break. That’s the plan in the summer. Look somewhere where I feel I’ve got a good opportunity to play again. It just has to be right for myself.”