IAN McCALL expects to dip into the transfer market when the window reopens in January but will not be on the lookout for defensive reinforcements after veteran centre-back Steven Bell returned to first-team training.

The Partick Thistle manager has had to deal with the long-term absence of central defender Darren Brownlie and when Bell picked up an injury earlier this season, the Jags were left decidedly short of bodies at the back.

McCall had previously indicated that he would use the January window to add a couple more players in defence but with Bell now on the road to recovery, he admits to have turned his attention to other areas of the squad.

Thistle host Hamilton on Saturday afternoon as they look to stretch their unbeaten run to eight Championship fixtures, and McCall was pleased to report that almost the entire squad are fit and available for the match.

“Everybody is okay except from Brownlie,” he said. “Bell did a bit of training today so we’d like to think he’ll be back quite soon as long as there is no reaction. He’s pencilled in for a Glasgow Cup game in early December, so it will be good to get him back.

“It means any business I do in the January window would not involve bringing in another defender.

“Yes, my mind is on this window and also next summer. If we want to redevelop the club, you’ve got to be very forward-thinking.

“There’s a board meeting tonight about some of the ideas I’ve got, so we shall see how that goes.”

McCall wouldn’t be drawn on what areas of the squad he has in mind but he did reveal a preference to sign players on a permanent basis, rather than dipping into the loan market.

“I wouldn’t want to give that away just now [what areas he is targeting] but I certainly think January is a difficult window. Two years ago, we did a lot of business in January and it worked because Brownlie, [Brian] Graham, [Ross] Docherty and [Zak] Rudden… I couldn’t see how anybody could say that they haven’t been big successes.

“Certainly, maybe a couple of players. If we do manage to get a couple in then there would only be one going out because we need to increase the size of the squad, not weaken it.

“It could just be loans but if the right type of player becomes available then we may try and so some work with that for next season as well.

“I’d like to have 14 or 15 under contract by the start of next season, so that the club is evolving properly. I hope within the next two weeks we’ll have 11.

“It’s not that I’m a huge fan of [the loan market], I don’t like filling a club like ours up with loan players because there’s no identity there that the fans can relate to because they’re not our players.

“But, on the other side of that coin, I really don’t see the point of bringing in a player on loan to beef up your squad.

“A perfect example is [Rangers loanee Lewis] Mayo who is a mainstay in the team. The goalkeeping situation is different, we’re still waiting on Jake [Hastie] but he’s been finding it really hard to get into the team because of how we’ve been playing.”

The last time Thistle faced Hamilton on league duty, McCall watched on as his side put six past the beleaguered Accies with a late consolation goal from David Moyo the only response from Stuart Taylor’s team.

It is the only goal that the Jags have shipped in their last seven outings in the Championship and the following three fixtures ended 0-0, leading McCall to brand the 6-1 win as something of an outlier.

“No, I don’t think [there will be a backlash]. It was a bit of a freak result as was proven in our next three games when we didn’t score a goal,” he explained.

“They didn’t have a good result last Saturday [in a 3-0 defeat to Raith Rovers] but they picked up a couple of good results other than that.

“It’s just as big a game for them as it is for us and it will be equally as hard as Kilmarnock away, so we’ve got to be at it right from the off.

“The clean sheets have come out of nowhere. We’ve lost one goal in seven games and that was in the 90th minute against Hamilton when we were 6-0 up.

“[Goalkeeper Jamie] Sneddon is playing well, all the defenders are confident, we’ve got midfielders in front that do a really good job. We know it can’t go on forever but let's try and do it for one more game.”

Things have been going well on the pitch for the Jags of late but off of it, there have been two notable tragedies. The first occurred at the start of the month when Paul Kelly, the former Partick Thistle Charitable Trust manager who oversaw the delivery of 25,000 free meals to vulnerable locals during the height of the pandemic, sadly passed away. The second arrived at the tail end of last week when Bertie Auld, the Lisbon Lion and the club’s former manager, died aged 83.

There will be a minute’s applause in Kelly’s memory at Firhill on Saturday and the players will don black armbands as a show of respect, while Auld’s legacy will be remembered in the Scottish Cup fixture with Dunfermline the following Friday.

“I knew Bertie pretty well, I had a few chats with him,” McCall added. “I knew Paul, I did some work for them [the Charitable Trust] a few Christmas’ ago when we were allowed to do things.

“It seems there is a lot of sadness around just now, Walter [Smith] as well a couple of weeks before that. It’s tough times, particularly for two guys that did so much for Thistle.

“Some of the stories I’ve heard about Bertie from some of the players that worked under him… I could tell you them but I won’t.

“Paul worked his socks off here, so he’ll be hard to replace."

“Absolutely, [we want to do them proud]. I know a lot of Paul’s family will be at Firhill on Saturday. I think it’s the right thing to do.

“The sad thing is we seem to be doing a minutes’ silence most weeks just now – we did it for Walter, then it was Remembrance Day, now it’s Paul and then it’s Bertie, so let’s hope there’s not many of them for the rest of the season.”