THE Partick Thistle players have returned to Firhill and Ian McCall and his coaching staff are wasting no time in whipping them into shape for the upcoming campaign.

There are a couple of new faces around training, though, as well as a few familiar ones that Jags supporters will recognise. Five players – Anton Dowds, Harry Milne, Aaron Muirhead, Jack McMillan and Steven Lawless – have been recruited to flesh out the squad as the Maryhill outfit gear up for another promotion challenge.

Here, Herald and Times Sport examines each of the summer recruits to see what they will bring to McCall’s squad.

Anton Dowds

Glasgow Times:

The 25-year-old has been brought in to ease the goal scoring burden placed on Brian Graham’s shoulders, who spent the second half of last season as the team’s main attacking outlet after Zak Rudden departed for Dens Park. Alex Jakubiak and Juan Alegria were brought in on loan from Dundee and Rangers respectively but managed a solitary goal between them.

The early indications are that the centre-forward should fare a little better than his predecessors. When playing in the Championship for the first half of last season during a six-month loan stint at Arbroath, Dowds produced five goals in 17 outings. That doesn’t sound all that impressive initially but it’s important to note that the striker was often being used as an impact sub.

When we examine Dowds’ goalscoring rate per 90 minutes, we can see that he was one of the most effective forwards in the division. He was averaging 0.53 goals per 90 – an improvement on Graham’s return of 0.46, and not far behind Kilmarnock’s Kyle Lafferty (0.59).

It was a similar story when Dowds returned to Falkirk, where he averaged 0.67 goals per 90 over the second half of the season. He was a regular starter in League One and his goal scoring rate improved – McCall will be hoping that history repeats itself at Firhill.

Harry Milne

Glasgow Times:

The attacking full-back was dubbed a ‘coup’ by McCall and at least two top-flight clubs – believed to be Aberdeen and Hibernian – were sniffing around the 25-year-old before he signed a pre-contract agreement with the Jags. Thistle’s alacrity in making their move was cited as the key factor in securing his services.

It isn’t hard to see why Milne was in-demand. A key part of the Cove Rangers side that has surged up the SPFL pyramid, the defender is a fine example of a modern-day wing-back. Fast, strong, good in the tackle, comfortable in the air and with an eye for a cross, Milne appears to tick about every box a coach would look for in a wide defender.

Milne finished the previous season with seven assists – the third-highest total in League One – and his underlying stats are encouraging, too. Expected Assists (xA) measure the quality and quantity of opportunities that a player creates (regardless of whether or not the chance was converted) and Milne boasted one of the highest tallies in the league last term with a cumulative xA of 5.07. For context, centre-forward Rory McAllister had the highest xA with a total of 5.54.

Milne won 65.5 per cent of his aerial duels last season, the twelfth-best rate of any League One player and was placed seventh for the number of crosses attempted per 90 minutes. His accuracy suffered a little but with a target man like Graham to aim for – and space to drive in to thanks to Scott Tiffoney’s tendency to cut inside and drift inwards – there are grounds for cautious optimism that there can be improvement here.

Aaron Muirhead

Glasgow Times:

A player that Thistle supporters will be familiar with from his time at the clubs as an important part of the title-winning team in 2012/13 that sealed the Jags’ return to the Premiership. He remained part of Alan Archibald’s squad for 18 months before leaving by mutual decision to join Falkirk.

At 31 years old, Muirhead provides some experience at the back, which is something that won’t go amiss after Richard Foster and Steven Bell’s contracts weren’t renewed at the end of last season. McCall views Muirhead’s versatility as a big plus – he can play in central defence and at right-back – and although he is likely to find Kevin Holt and Tunji Akinola ahead of him in the pecking order, Muirhead will push hard for a place in the starting XI.

An experienced operator and a safe pair of hands, Muirhead will likely slot in as and when required, whether that be down to injuries in the starting XI or a defender suffering a downturn in form. He also happens to be rather handy from the penalty spot, which never hurts.

Jack McMillan

Glasgow Times:

Another player who is returning to Firhill. McMillan spent the second half of the 2018/19 campaign on loan at Thistle from Livingston during Gary Caldwell’s ill-fated tenure at the helm of the club. Primarily playing in a back three, McMillan gave a decent account of himself in a struggling team before returning to the Tony Macaroni.

The 24-year-old’s defensive numbers from his time at Livi are fairly encouraging but there is one area that should be of some concern: the amount of minutes McMillan has played. Upon his return to West Lothian, the versatile defender played 1681 minutes. The following year, he received only 546 top-flight minutes. Things improved last season as McMillan got 996 minutes under his belt, but his game-time was partially limited after suffering a kneecap injury in September.

It will be interesting to see how McMillan fares as a first-team regular. The defender has presumably been brought in to replace Foster at right-back but given he has featured all across the defence at Livingston, don’t be surprised to see McMillan slotting in elsewhere as and when required.

Steven Lawless

Glasgow Times:

A man who needs no introduction to Thistle fans. Lawless retains a lot of credit in the bank amongst supporters from his first stint at Firhill where he was a key player alongside the likes of Kris Doolan and Chris Erskine and although he’s gained a few years since then, he remains as effective a presence as ever.

A stint at Fir Park didn’t really work out as Lawless struggled for game-time before a move to Dunfermline in January of this year. The Pars’ campaign ended in disaster as they were relegated to the third tier but Lawless was one of the few bright sparks in an ultimately dour and dispiriting season.

Despite playing for a side that went on to be relegated, Lawless remained one of the most creative players in the Championship. His combined expected goals (xG) and xA per 90 minutes sat at 0.44 last term – the ninth best rate of any player in the division, and not too far behind the 0.61 produced by Graham (the second highest rate in the league). He also averaged 0.72 key passes – passes that lead directly to a shot – per 90 minutes played, the seventh best rate of any second-tier player. For context, Inverness’ Tom Walsh was the league leader in this regard, making 0.85 per 90.

Lawless’ final ball remains as deadly as ever, then, and he still remains handy with the ball at his feet, too. His dribbling success rate of 63.5 per cent was the seventh best rate in the Championship last term, while his stint as captain at East End Park demonstrated his leadership credentials to boot. Whether or not he can hit the heights of his first spell at Thistle remains to be seen but there are plenty of reasons to be quietly optimistic.