During the opening month of the campaign, the only hint of discontent amid Alan Archibald's observations was disappointment that Partick Thistle had yet to burnish a splendid start to the SPFL Premiership season with a win at home, yet his comments on Saturday were laced with far less palatable phraseology, even if his delivery remained considered. The manager spoke of "basic errors" and of "giving goals away", but perhaps more damningly of his side being "second to every ball" as they were eviscerated by Aberdeen.
His comments were an unwelcome interruption of reality for a group of players who have been feted solidly for much of the past year after their title-winning campaign but, then, the events on the pitch had already disabused them of any delusions. The Glasgow side were made to look like a lower-league team by their accomplished visitors, any misapprehensions they may have harboured after the ease with which they have adapted to a higher division brushed aside ruthlessly.
As his manager spoke, Scott Fox stood quietly to one side. The goalkeeper was exempt from any criticism, his interventions having prevented the outcome being even more chastening, but acknowledged the merit of his analysis. "We knew we'd have days like this," he said. "It didn't happen last season but we know we'll be punished in this league if we don't show up and that proved it. There have been a lot of positives around the club but we always knew we would lose games and the important thing is picking ourselves up. As the gaffer said, it's a reality check because Aberdeen were better than us in every position."
Given that their last top-flight triumph at Firhill came against the Pittodrie club in May 2004, it had seemed as if the weekend visit of Derek McInnes' side would be an ideal opportunity to bookend that run and firmly establish themselves in the upper echelons of the table. It took just 13 minutes for that ambition to be dented, and a further seven for it to be extinguished entirely.
Both goals, as well as Josh Magennis' third after the break, were characterised by grotesquely sloppy defending but to vilify such as centre-back Gabriel Piccolo would perhaps be unduly harsh, given both the manner in which Aberdeen played and the assiduous way in which McInnes structured his side. Having assessed Thistle's opening few games and noted that their only defeat, against Motherwell, came when space was stifled in midfield, he cluttered the centre of his own team with quick, diligent performers and instructed them to press Archibald's side in their own half and neuter the forward rampages of full-backs Stephen O'Donnell and Aaron Taylor-Sinclair.
Granted his hand was forced, in part, by the absence of Barry Robson, Russell Anderson, Willo Flood and Niall McGinn, but the frightening pace McInnes introduced in their stead overwhelmed the hosts, even if the deployment of just one recognised midfielder - Ryan Jack - behind four fleet-footed forwards and targetman Calvin Zola, initially appeared ambitious. "We had a lot of forward-thinking players in the team but Ryan being there meant we had the freedom to express ourselves and it worked," said Peter Pawlett, one of an attacking quartet along with the peerless Jonny Hayes, Cammy Smith and Gregg Wylde.
"We worked all week on trying to get a system that suits us and it worked well because Partick like to play out from the back and we tried to press them and intercept the ball high up the pitch."
That approach also gave them tangible reward for what McInnes called their "penalty-box entries" after four matches - including 120 minutes of a cup tie against Alloa Athletic - in which they scored just once. Zola, having spent the break working on his fitness, looked much more mobile and was rewarded with a first goal, while Magennis, too, was clinical with his one real opportunity. "There was a lot of pressure on Niall to get goals last season," said Pawlett. "But the boys showed they can score and I need to add more to my game as well."