TWELVE years' service in two spells as a player with Partick Thistle means Alan Archibald is already regarded as a Firhill legend by the club's supporters.

Thistle have a bit to do, though, before they can start daydreaming about Clydesdale Bank Premier League football, a prospect not looking as much of a likelihood for them as it did earlier in the campaign when they were swatting aside all and sundry.

A festive mini-wobble, a raft of postponements, a reinvigorated Morton and the loss of McNamara have all served to put doubts in the minds of some Thistle fans, a group not unaccustomed to seeing their heroes snatch failure from the jaws of victory over the years.

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Call-offs in successive weeks have kept Archibald, 35, waiting for his managerial debut but that moment will finally arrive today, and the stakes could not be higher.

Morton provide the opposition, with Allan Moore's side looking to exploit home advantage to increase their advantage over Thistle at the top of the Irn-Bru First Division to 11 points.

Were that to happen, Thistle would remain in deficit even if they were to win all three of their games in hand. Archibald has already learned enough about management to assert quickly that the Cappielow encounter is "definitely not a must-win game" although a loss would certainly make the task ahead infinitely tougher.

"We're desperate to get a game again, me and the players," Archibald said. "Any other time when you haven't played for a few weeks you would be worried the boys might be a bit rusty but, with a massive game like this, that's not going to be a problem.

"It couldn't really get much bigger than a game away to Morton. They took advantage of us being off last week to stretch their lead but we know that it's all still in our own hands. If we can go to Morton and get a positive result then that will set us up nicely for the rest of the games."

Archibald will probably make his managerial debut from his usual spot in front of the goalkeeper. Thistle's limited resources mean he will be required to continue playing, leaving his assistant, Scott Paterson, to run things from the touchline.

"I'll probably have to [keep playing]," Archibald said. "I don't have a choice, to be honest. I've had all sorts of different advice from people, some saying I should keep playing, others saying I can't do both. But it's all about numbers. We only have around 18 or 19 in the squad so I don't have that luxury of just saying I'm not going to play any more."

Archibald's prospects of retaining the job on a permanent basis will be closely tied to results. He is effectively on trial over the next few weeks, Thistle's chairman David Beattie effectively having said the job is Archibald's to lose. High-profile candidates such as Phil Brown and Ian Ferguson have thrown their hats into the Firhill ring, although they might change their minds, laughs Archibald, when they see the budget they would have to work with.

"It's a results business and that's what you're judged on; it doesn't matter what you've done at the club beforehand," he said. If the team do well I think it will help my chances. I know other names are out there but I think when they realise what they would be working with they might have second thoughts. But I'm not put off by any of that at all."

His first match in charge could hardly have been tougher but there is an acknowledgement, too, from Archibald that the circumstances could also have been far worse. He has taken over at a team that, generally speaking, is in good shape, McNamara only leaving because of the offer of a better job.

"I haven't made big changes," Archibald said. "I think one of the reasons the chairman asked me to take over was for continuity. There's nothing really wrong at the club. It's a funny situation with a manager leaving when things are going well

" I've changed one or two small things in training, doing things more the way I like them, but the majority of things have stayed the same. If we can start picking up a few more points away from home we won't be far away come the end of the season."