AFTER a somewhat nomadic start to his professional career, Zak Rudden is delighted to have found a club that he can finally call home.

After coming through the youth ranks at Ibrox, the centre-forward found himself shipped out on loan to first Falkirk and then Plymouth Argyle before signing a permanent deal at Firhill in January 2020.

It’s not exactly been an ideal start for the enthusiastic striker. Between the sporting shutdown last spring, the Jags’ controversial relegation to the third tier, the injuries that have plagued him since his arrival in Glasgow’s west end and the fact that it took him over a year to register his first league goal in red-and-yellow, Rudden’s time at Thistle has been far from plain sailing.

But the 21-year-old reckons that all that adversity that has been shovelled his way over the last 16 months only makes the club’s League One title win all the more sweet, adding that his spell at Firhill has allowed him to put down roots at a club for the first time in his fledgling career.

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“I still have one more year on my contract and that’s good because I was needing some stability after two seasons out on loan,” he said. “But I must thank Ian McCall for bringing me in because I went through a tough period. I had a knee operation when I was at Plymouth and then a number of niggling injury problems after that but he stuck by me through it all.

“And it wasn’t just him. Everyone at the club – the backroom staff, the physios and the rest – were right behind me and I’m grateful to them for that. I owe all of them for believing in me.

“I don’t look upon [my time at Rangers] as a bad time or think that I never got a chance. I don’t like looking back but the fact is I had another year left on my contract and I could have stayed at Ibrox but I thought it was time for me to leave and I think I made the right decision. I’ve shown I can do it away from Rangers and, at my age, I want to be playing every week.

“You never know what happens in football but I’d love to be here next season. This is a good home for me and, even when I had my injuries, the gaffer kept his faith in me and now I’ve proved what I can do. I missed a few chances when I was coming back in the past but all that’s behind me now.

“This is a great place for a forward to play. We go with three up front and we attack and attack, although we can defend as well. I thrive on that kind of service and really enjoy playing this style of football. They have trust in me and I trust them right back because I know they’ll always create chances for me.”

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Ian McCall’s side brushed fellow challengers Falkirk aside with a breathtaking display of swashbuckling, attacking football at Firhill on Thursday night, sticking five past the Bairns as they wrapped up the championship in spectacular fashion.

It’s quite the turnaround, given they trailed their title rivals by eight points at the beginning of last month. But there has been a relentless nature about the Jags in recent weeks, a steely resolve to get over the line and provide their long-suffering supporters with a slither of redemption.

Now that the players have done just that, Rudden insists, the next step is to make a splash in the Championship next season.

“The boys have worked hard all season to come back up and I’ve done the same myself to come back from injury,” he said.

“They’ve put in 100 per cent every week and to win the title like this is different class. Myself, Brian Graham and Scott Tiffoney have been banging in the goals but it’s not just about the men up front – Joe Cardle came on against Falkirk and scored and everyone else has been contributing as well.

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“Scoring five to clinch the league is a credit to everyone – the players and the gaffer. I’m just delighted we’ve managed to get over the line. That’s my first senior winner’s medal – finally, after two relegations! We can move forward from this.

“We’re champions but we still have one more game on Tuesday [against Montrose] to win and then we can celebrate and look forward to next season. I think we can be a force in the Championship: we have the strength to go up and do well. We’ll show people why we should be there.”