IAN McCALL couldn’t help but ponder just how much difference a year or two can make after Partick Thistle moved top of the Championship table with a comfortable 3-0 win over Dunfermline.

The Jags suffered a chastening 5-1 defeat at East End Park back in November 2019 not long after McCall had returned to the club but yesterday’s composed and assured display could hardly have been any more different.

“We played really well and the game plan worked really well,” said the delighted Thistle manager. “Dunfermline will be right up there at the end of the season so it’s a great result for us.

“I thought [central midfield pairing] Ross Docherty and Stuart Bannigan ran the game but it was a great team performance.

“I remember coming here with my old team and we got beat 5-1 – we were down to 10 men after four minutes. It’s a different set of boys now.”

It didn’t take long to establish the visitors’ game plan at East End Park. In possession they shaped up in a 4-4-2, moving the ball forward quickly and directly whenever Dunfermline lost control of it, while the Peter Grant’s Pars placed a heavy emphasis on controlling play, patiently advancing and probing for gaps.

The problem, though, was that they did not appear, and the hosts’ meandering build-up left McCall’s men with plenty of time to organise at the back. On occasion, Thistle even switched to a 3-5-2 formation off the ball, mirroring their opponents’ shape.

It worked, too. With just seven minutes on the clock, Jags skipper Ross Docherty intercepted a loose ball in midfield and Kyle Turner’s eventual cross was deflected behind for a corner, much to the jeering delight of the home fans in the North West corner of the ground.

They were silenced within moments when Turner, on the books at Dunfermline last season, picked out Docherty at the near post and the midfielder’s flicked header nestled in at the far post.

Dunfermline were shaken at this point and were sloppy on the ball, leading to more than one hairy moment at the back. Zak Rudden harried tirelessly after long balls forward as the Jags tried to stretch the Pars defence, and they got their reward on 20 minutes.

Again, a set-piece was Dunfermline’s undoing. Turner was the provider once more, this time curling a high cross from the opposite corner towards the back post where Kevin Holt was waiting to steer the ball down and into the back of the net.

The hosts continued to look sloppy in possession, regularly advancing to within 40 yards of goal before carelessly gifting the ball away. Kevin O’Hara’s raking drive that had to be tipped behind for a corner by Thistle keeper Harry Stone on the stroke of half-time was the closest they came to reducing the arrears before the break.

Craig Wighton was introduced from the bench as Grant went about seizing the initiative. The home players came flying out of the traps and almost pulled one back within seconds of the restart but no one was at hand to connect with Kyle MacDonald’s inviting delivery across the face of goal.

The intense pressure soon relented as the Thistle defence stood firm. The game settled back into a familiar pattern and although Dunfermline were getting closer, clear-cut chances were few and far between. An effort from Wighton had to be tipped acrobatically round the post by Stone and a close-range header from Nikolay Todorov kept the away goalkeeper on his toes, but the breakthrough would never arrive for the home side.

There were groans from the 2000-strong home crowd when Deniz Mehmet allowed a seemingly innocuous backpass to drift past him but the goalkeeper’s blushes were spared as the ball rolled a fraction wide of the empty net.

The concerned groans turned to disaffected jeers within minutes as Cammy Smith combined with his fellow substitute Connor Murray to wrap up the victory for the visitors. The former latched onto a ball in behind after the latter won the ball back high up the park and shifted it to Bannigan, drilling an awkward ball across the face of goal that centre-half Ross Graham could only divert into his own net.

“We were very poor,” Grant rued at full-time. “Credit to Thistle – they played the game very well and they deserved the victory.

“I thought we were a bit slow with our passing and once you do that, it allows the opposition to get near you.

“We weren’t aggressive enough in anything that we did, we weren’t competitive enough. We had to set the tone of the game and we just didn’t do that.”