WHEN Ross Docherty signed a pre-contract agreement with Partick Thistle back in January, the 27-year-old knew he was taking a risk. At the time, the Jags were rock-bottom of the Championship table, embroiled in yet another relegation dogfight and with demotion to the third tier an all-too-real possibility.

No one could have predicted the manner and circumstances of Thistle’s eventual relegation to League One, with the club finishing the 2019/20 season propping up the rest as the campaign was curtailed prematurely. Fans will no doubt feel harshly treated by the decision, given the fact that Ian McCall’s side were only two points behind Queen of the South in ninth with a game in hand against Inverness – a side who they have defeated on every occasion the pair met last term. Equally frustrating for supporters is that the Maryhill outfit were the only team in the division to face runaway league leaders Dundee United four times, adding to a sense of injustice from the club’s support.

But like it or loathe it, Thistle are now a League One club (unless Ann Budge’s mooted 14-10-10-10 reconstruction proposal can offer the Jags a lifeline). Docherty is the first player in the door at Firhill this summer and looks to be a shrewd addition by McCall. The pair know each other well from the Thistle manager’s stint at Somerset Park and there is plenty to suggest that Docherty will provide some much-needed balance in the middle of the park at Firhill.

The Jags have been crying out for a combative ball-winner in midfield for some time now (arguably ever since the now-maligned Abdul Osman left in 2018) and the stats suggest that Docherty may well be the man to provide some steel. Despite their relative comfort in posession, averaging the fourth-highest possession rate in the Championship last season, Thistle had the second-lowest total defensive duel success rate in the league. This deficiency often left them porous at the back, which in turn played a calamitous role in the previous campaign; only Alloa conceded more shots last season, and no-one conceded more goals.

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Docherty’s eagerness to get stuck in may go some way to addressing this fundamental flaw. The 27-year-old averaged 9.76 defensive duels per 90 mins last term – the fourth highest rate of any Championship player – winning around 62 percent of them, making him one of the Championship’s most successful midfielders in this regard. He won 4.6 interceptions per 90 last season and while that isn’t enough to make him truly stand out amongst his peers, it should be noted that that figure is better than any Thistle midfielders achieved last season.

In attacking phases of play, Docherty has played a vital role in the recent success of Ayr and McCall will be hoping that the former Livingston and Airdrieonians player can follow suit in his new surroundings. The central midfielder recorded the fifth-highest passing accuracy into the final third (73.3 percent) of any player in the division last season and clearly as an eye for a pass; the problem is that Docherty simply doesn’t attempt these as often as he probably should. He was averaging 7.28 per 90 under Mark Kerr last season, which is enough to place him in the league’s top 50 in this regard, but still a significant way off the league leaders in this metric. Docherty clearly possesses the vision and technical ability to unlock a defence, and it is down to McCall to ensure that he does so more frequently.

This added creativity in midfield could prove crucial for Thistle. With Reece Cole heading back to his parent club Brentford, McCall’s side are a little lacking in technical players in the middle of the park. It’s an issue that stems back to Gary Caldwell’s time in charge of the club – ever since Chris Erskine was sold to Livingston, the Jags have been lacking a creative fulcrum in midfield. Now, Docherty is not that player – he plays as more of a traditional number six – but his arrival goes some way to addressing the dearth of creativity at the heart of McCall’s side.

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Whenever the new campaign begins (and whatever league Thistle find themselves in when it does) it seems a near-certainty that Docherty will be partnering Firhill stalwart Stuart Bannigan in midfield. On paper at least, it is a neat fit. The two players complement each others’ strengths and weaknesses and could provide a formidable pairing at the heart of McCall’s side.

While Bannigan (48) hits more passes than Docherty (40) over the course of 90 minutes, the former excels at recycling possession whereas the latter has the edge at threading through a ball to a team-mate in the final third. Off the ball, Docherty is more aggressive, recording more defensive duels, interceptions and giving away more fouls than Bannigan.

Glasgow Times:

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The above heat map is an illustrative way of seeing how the players are likely to slot in together next season. As we can see, Docherty spends most of his time in a holding position or to the right of central midfield, while Bannigan prefers to cover a larger area of the pitch to retrieve the ball from his team-mates. With Docherty alongside him dropping slightly deeper, Bannigan will have more license to do what he does best for Thistle: remain open for a pass, keep everything ticking over in the middle and allow his team-mates to stretch the opposition. Defensively, Docherty provides the counterbalance to Bannigan’s forays forward and as we have already seen, has little difficulty in picking out a team-mate in the final third.

All in all, the latest Thistle recruit looks so be a savvy addition from McCall. Both offensively and defensively, Docherty offers something that has been lacking at Firhill in recent years and should have no difficulty whatsoever in integrating himself into his old boss’ tactical blueprint. A lack of steel in midfield and a dearth of guile further forward have been two of the fundamental flaws in this Thistle side and the arrival of Docherty actively addresses both of these concerns.