July represented a fairly steep learning curve for Zander MacKenzie. The 17-year-old midfielder had a few substitute appearances to his name last season but started the new campaign in the starting line-up, filling in for the injured Jack McMillan at right-back.

The step up from the Under-18s to the cut-and-thrust of the professional men’s game is a sizeable one, but you wouldn’t know it from MacKenzie’s performances of late. The Thistle Weir Youth Academy graduate has been playing out of position in an altogether different environment, yet he has met the challenge in his stride.

“It’s been a good start,” said MacKenzie after fans voted him as the club’s first McCrea Financial Services Player of the Month of the new season.

“I got my chance against Peterhead in the first game of the season and I feel like I took it. To play against Dundee United, Falkirk and Spartans was great and I really enjoyed it.

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“I feel like I’ve settled in well because I was training with the first team for all of last season and getting up to standard. I had been coming on when games had fallen a bit flat but starting games, I feel like I’ve been up to the standard.”

Few onlookers could dispute that. A series of encouraging performances later – including a man-of-the-match display against Dundee United at Tannadice – and MacKenzie has his rewards in the shape of a three-year contract extension, as well as a first club player of the month award.

It’s a lot for a 17-year-old to come to terms with, and MacKenzie admits that has to pinch himself every now and then.

“I do sometimes but my mum and dad try to keep me humble as best they can,” he said. “The boys in the team are brilliant.

“I feel like it’s easier with the people you’re doing it with. There are a few young boys here, we train together every day and we are close. The older guys don’t pressure you into anything – obviously there is pressure playing in competitive games but I feel I’ve handled it well.”

Glasgow Times:

MacKenzie is one part of a crop of promising youngsters at Firhill that are likely to receive first-team minutes this term, alongside James Lyon, Ji Stevenson and Ben Stanway.

Having a close relationship with his fellow academy graduates certainly makes life easier for the youngster from Lochgilphead – who lives alone in Glasgow – as do regular visits from his parents.

“All the young boys are close,” he said. “Me and Ben starting the first two games was brilliant because we were out on the pitch together, and he came through a couple of months before me.

“We have played together a lot in the academy – Jamesy and Ji too. When one of us is playing, the others just want him to do the best he can. Everyone is so close and so supportive of each other.

“One of my mum or my dad come to every game, and so does my wee brother and my wee sister. There is always at least one of them here to support me. It takes a couple of hours but my mum and dad try to come up once a week anyway because I stay by myself. 

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“It was challenging at first – the cooking, the cleaning, all that. When my mum came up she helped me with some stuff but then I got used to things. I just use Google and TikTok to help me cook! I feel like I’m quite a good cook to be honest.”

MacKenzie fancies himself as a central midfielder in the long term but was shifted to right-back for the group stages of the Viaplay Cup. His manager, Kris Doolan, wanted the youngster to gain a greater tactical appreciation of the game by seeing it from a new perspective and MacKenzie believes he has gained precisely that, thanks to the occasional word of wisdom from his team-mates.

“I have found the tactical part a wee bit challenging because I’ve been playing right-back and I’m normally at centre mid,” he explained.

“But with Aero [Aaron Muirhead], Wasiri [Williams], Sneds [Jamie Sneddon] behind me, and Stevie [Lawless] in front of me – Aero and Stevie have been a massive help because they play on my side and have been talking me through games. 

“Jack McMillan was unbelievable all last season. In midfield you run a lot but at right-back you are just constantly getting up and down.”

McCrea Financial Services proudly sponsor Partick Thistle's Player of the Month awards - www.mccreafs.co.uk