PARTICK Thistle fans could be forgiven for having spent the last three months dreaming of the day the Jags returned to action. By five o’clock on Saturday afternoon, there were probably one or two left wondering why.

It was the same sorry tale of woe that supporters have become well-versed in this season. Neither side really turned up in the first half but Thistle still found room for the odd clanger here and there. There was an improvement in the second half – particularly after Joe Cardle was introduced – and after the substitute nudged the hosts ahead, Ian McCall’s men gained a sense of attacking swagger about them.

Chances came and went to bury the game. A cross-cum-shot from Cardle was nervously hacked off the line by Cove and Sena somehow contrived to scoop the rebound over the bar from eight yards out. Barely two minutes later, Mitch Megginson capitalised on some slack defending to produce a goal out of nowhere and level the contest.

The Jags huffed and puffed as they knocked on the door but Paul Hartley’s side wouldn’t budge. Cardle almost grabbed a match-winner late on as his drilled shot was nodded round the post by Ryan Strachan but it wasn't to be.

The former Dunfermline man could be pleased with his own contribution – he was the catalyst that sparked Thistle into life, after all – but admitted that the draw was a blow to his team’s title ambitions, particularly with league leaders Falkirk winning 2-0 at the weekend.

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“It’s the story of the season so far,” he rued. “We don’t seem to put teams to bed. Especially at home, we’re dominating games from start to finish and coming away with ni-nils and even losing games. This seems to sum it up so far but we have to rectify that and turn it around. We’ve only got seven games left before the split and all of them are must-win.

“Every game was already must-win – that’s why this is so frustrating. We put ourselves in a great position.

“We had chances – even after my goal, I had another one cleared off the line, Sena could have done better with his one – that’s the frustrating part. We know we were the better team and we had the better chances so to give away a slack goal like that, it feels like a loss to be honest.

“And when you see Falkirk picking up points it sinks in even worse.”

With a Scottish Cup tie against Cowdenbeath at Firhill tomorrow, Cardle and his team-mates will get the chance to put the weekend's disappointment behind them quickly.

The coming month will be something of a slog for the Jags as they prepare to play regularly twice a week. Five additions on loan earlier this month mean McCall’s squad is better stocked than most in the third tier and rather than feeling daunted by fixture congestion, Cardle is simply relieved that it’s not any worse than it is.

“We’re a fit team,” he explained. “We’ve got some good legs in the squad and I think if you look at some of the fixture lists for other teams, we’re one of the lucky ones.

“I’ve got a friend at Dumbarton and he’s got eight games in two weeks. We’ve got to consider ourselves lucky that it’s just Saturday-Tuesday for the foreseeable. We’ve got to have that mindset and we’ve got to get through it, but we’re luck in that we’ve got a big squad as well. The back-up is there if we need it.”

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While Cardle was clearly disappointed with the team’s result on Saturday, he says he can take a slice of solace from his own dominant performance on the right wing. As someone who’s spent most of his career on the opposite flank, the 34-year-old is pleased that he is enjoying a new lease of life in what is a relatively new position for him.

Cardle explained: “I played on the left for the majority of my career and it’s only the gaffer that’s decided to put me out there. I think it’s worked well to be honest.

“Before the second lockdown, me and [right-back] Ryan Williamson linked up well together and we had a lot of joy. A lot of goals and assists came down our side and a lot of chances, so hopefully that continues. Hopefully I get more of a shout on the right because I seem to be getting a lot of joy.

“The position I’m in as a footballer – I’m there to create goals and score goals. As long as I’m doing that, as long as I’m creating chances, then I’m doing my job.

“I think I was only on the pitch half an hour [against Cove] but I scored and there were a few chances that came through me. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a second goal but as long as I keep getting in those areas and keep creating chances, I’ll be happy with myself. But as a team, we’re frustrated that we haven’t gone in with three points.”