AFTER Partick Thistle stormed to the League One title with a remarkable late run at the end of last season and their return to the Championship was assured, Mouhamed ‘Sena’ Niang knew he was at a crossroads in his career.

The 21-year-old, who plied his trade outwith the SPFL with Pollok before joining the Jags, knew first-team appearances in the second tier would be few and far between after coming off the back of a decidedly mixed debut campaign in red and yellow. Sena deputised admirably in central defence during the first half of last season before errors creeped into his game in the second, ultimately costing him his place in Ian McCall’s line-up.

After a period of soul-searching and an honest conversation with his manager, the decision was taken that Sena would be shipped out on loan to Alloa. And as he explains, there are few clubs better suited to his development than the League One part-timers.

“At the start of the season I looked myself in the mirror and tried to be as honest as possible,” he recalled. “I wasn’t going to play every week so I went and knocked the gaffer’s office. I said ‘Listen, I want to go and play’. If I’m not going to play every week, it doesn’t matter what club I’m at: I’m not satisfied.

“Alloa are a decent club. They’ve been in the Championship the last couple of seasons and from watching Scottish football, I’d say Alloa and Arbroath have been the best part-time teams for the last five or six years so it was a no-brainer. Obviously, the gaffer there, Fergie – he was the best in my position when I played so it was an easy decision to go there and see what I can do.”

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Sena is referring to Barry Ferguson, the former Rangers player and Scotland internationalist. Thistle supporters could be forgiven for feeling a little confused at this point – after all, Sena has rarely featured outside of defence for the Jags and Ferguson was arguably the best Scottish midfielder of his generation – but the explanation is simple: Sena sees his future further forward. And after excelling there thus far for Alloa, he might just be right.

“I knew I was going to be playing in midfield,” he explained. “I’d play anywhere on the pitch – left-back, right-back, centre-back, striker. If I’m on the pitch I’m happy but I’m a midfielder. I spoke to the gaffer here [McCall] about it and I spoke to Fergie too. I knew I would be back in my natural position to see what I can do there.

“I’m learning a lot; Fergie has been brilliant with me. When he talks, I just listen because he played at the highest level.

READ MORE: Sena determined to seize his chance after being named December player of the month

“There is still more to come from me but I can see a lot of improvement in my movement, in getting on the ball and in driving with the ball. I’ve always been decent at getting about and tackling folk but in terms of being on the ball – I just feel so much more confident and that’s down to the drills I do with him after training.

“He believes in me and believes I can go on and play at a very good level so I just need to work on a few things. He is helping me with that and I can definitely see the improvements on a Saturday.

“I’m getting better at driving with the ball. I’ve always been playing safe passes but the manager is getting me to do things that aren’t always safe. Instead of just playing a safe pass I can try other things.

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“We work on the training ground on basic stuff – how to get on the ball, movement, things like that. Even when I was at Thistle and you watch the likes of Stuart Bannigan, the way he takes the ball. Fergie is the best guy for me just now – he was the best player in that position in the country.

“I see myself as box-to-box player. I always felt that if I’m going to succeed in that position I’ll need to chip in with a few more goals and take more risks. If I’m going to play as a central defensive midfielder, it’s different – I can just break up play and move it on. But if I’m going to do the box-to-box role that the manager wants me to do then I can model my game on him because he was an all-round midfielder.”

Sena views last season as something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, he made his first-team breakthrough and played an important role as Thistle wrapped up the League One title. On the other, he admits that his decline in form after the restart represented something he hadn’t felt before on the park: adversity.

READ MORE: McCall challenges Sena to follow in Doolan and Erskine's footsteps as youngster signs contract extension

“I learned a lot last season – I would say the first half was good, the second was not-so-good,” he recalled. “The break came at the wrong time for me. Maybe I didn’t do the right things in the off-period and luck never went my way when we came back. These are things that I’ve learned from and hopefully I won’t make the same mistakes again.

“The wee sticky spell I had last season was probably the first time since I’ve started playing football that I’ve had that. I’ve never been a player that makes mistakes and that – touch wood – so when that happens during a game, it acts as a wake-up call. You need to keep working hard. I’ve learned a lot and hopefully now I can right some wrongs and kick on in my career.

“There were a lot of people – like my dad and a few people that are in my corner – that when I first brought up the loan, they didn’t really agree. But it’s my career and I want to play games. If you know me well, you’ll know that I won’t be happy just sitting on the bench.

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“It doesn’t matter what club it is. I don’t play football so I can say to people that I play for Thistle or for Alloa – I play football to play on a Saturday. So the loan is about going out and learning all the time instead of waiting about and playing here and there.

“It’s important for my career to play every week and I’m so happy that the gaffer here agreed with me when we sat down and had an honest chat because I’m not going to learn anything just watching a game of football. I need to actually play, make mistakes and learn from it.”

READ MORE: The stats behind Partick Thistle's start to the Championship campaign

That sticky spell may have been the first time Sena found himself exposed to adversity on the park but off of it, he has not had his troubles to seek. Issues in gaining a work permit resulted in a brief stint at Rangers as a youth player coming to a premature end and a move to Pollok followed while he awaited the green light to be registered in the professional set-up.

“Obviously it was frustrating – especially with the Rangers situation and everything that’s happened before and the opportunities I’ve had,” he admitted. “I try not to look back and use it to make me work harder and do my job on a football pitch.

“I know I’ve not to take things for granted because I know how hard you have to work to get to the level I’m at today. I just need to keep working hard and hopefully it pays off.”