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Livingston 2 Partick Thistle 2: Knowledge is power for first division's elder statesmen

IN a league where many of its performers have barely started shaving, anyone the wrong side of 30 playing in the Irn-Bru first division must feel positively ancient.

Steven Craig had put Thistle 2-1 ahead
Steven Craig had put Thistle 2-1 ahead

Steven Craig and Burton O'Brien are both 31 years old, the elder statesmen in two teams renowned for giving youth a chance. Those years of experience, however, can be a valuable asset when it comes to guiding other more callow team-mates down the right path

On Saturday Craig marked his first game as a permanent member of the Partick Thistle squad, after spending the first half of the season on loan, with a goal in a 2-2 draw. Thistle hope he scores plenty more in the weeks and months to come as they look to return to the top division for the first time since 2004, but Craig's knowledge of what is required of a promotion-winning side will also come in handy. It should be pretty fresh in his mind, too.

The well-travelled forward was part of the Ross County side that won the first division title just last summer only to be quickly deemed surplus to requirements – despite signing a one-year extension – as manager Derek Adams began to plot the club's first ever season in the Scottish Premier League.

He remains perplexed as to why his face didn't fit a County but hopes Thistle, now third in the table but just two points behind leaders Dunfermline, can emulate the success he enjoyed last season. "There is a personal motivation for me to get back to the SPL with Partick," he said. "Last season was a fairytale with County as runaway winners. To then be given a contract in the summer but not given a sniff [was disappointing].

"Did the ending sour my time at County? Not really. I spoke to Derek Adams when I left and everything was friendly and mutual. That's part and parcel of football. You make decisions, he didn't fancy me and that was his decision. My sole aim is to get Partick in the SPL now."

Based on the conclusion to Saturday's match – when Thistle had Sean Welsh sent off then conceded an injury-time equaliser to Marc McNulty – Craig's new side have plenty to do if they are achieve that ambition this season. Thistle have garnered plaudits for their exciting football but at this point of the campaign, the result is usually more important than how it was achieved.

"You need to be streetwise and cute sometimes," added Craig. "We got a corner with a minute to go and should have kept it in there, instead of throwing it in. You have to go through it to learn. When you go through these situations the first time, nine times out of 10 you make the wrong decision. We have done that this season but are still third and there's a long way to go."

Livingston remain on the fringes of the promotion push in sixth place, meaning the primary aim for their young squad for the remainder of the season will be to try to catch the eye of bigger clubs. Already players like McNulty, Stefan Scougall and others have been linked with moves away from Almondvale but O'Brien offered a word of caution. The midfielder was only 17 when he left St Mirren for Blackburn Rovers and barely got a look in at Ewood Park, eventually returning north to rebuild his career.

"To be honest, there are numerous [Livingston] boys I could pick out," said the former Scotland under-21 player. "But Scougall and McNulty are two that have particularly impressed me and I'm sure it's only a matter of time before they move on to bigger things. They are certainly good enough.

"I can speak from personal experience about moving at young age and what that can be like. But sometimes it can be taken out of a player's hands. If a club comes in and offers £500,000 or whatever it may be, then sometimes it's not the player's choice.

"My advice would be to stay and get at least 100 games. That should be the target for kids, even those in the SPL. If you do that then you at least have a bit of game knowledge and are ready to move to the next level."

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