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Young stars shut door on experienced signings . . .

AH, youth.

It is enough to drive obsessed managers and chairmen to lunacy, as they grasp for what always seems just tantalisingly out of reach: the academy-produced, all-conquering teenage cohort. It is the great white whale of thrifty football philosophy, but some - Dundee United this season, for example - have shown the wild hunt can be rewarded.

Allan Johnston, the Kilmarnock manager, is another who seems content in his chase, leaning overboard, brandishing his mad harpoon and roaring on the likes of Lee Ashcroft, Rory McKenzie and Chris Johnston as they battle to tow their club up the SPFL Premiership table.

In terms of new men in January, though, it means there is little scope for investment in the squad. Rabiu Ibrahim, Gabriel Reuben, Gary Fisher, Kyle Jacobs and Mark Stewart have all been thrown overboard, while David Silva and Ismael Bouzid remain perilously perched on the plank, as-yet-unfit and undecidedly worthy of an extension beyond January. Hardly any of this experience can be replaced - the success of Johnston's youngsters has upgraded former under-20 cheap charges to the first-team level, stealing precious berths in a crew which must be trimmed anyway. One or two additions might be possible.

"Young boys are regarded as first-teamers now," admitted Johnston. "Deservedly so. We've cut our money. We've not got as much money now, but that's part and parcel of it.

"We had quite a big squad in the first place. It's not the numbers we want; we want to improve the quality. At the end of the day, the young boys who have forced their way into the first team have been doing extremely well. They need a chance, and if they weren't good enough they wouldn't be here. We're lucky that we've got these players to come through and they'll be getting their opportunity."

It was put to Johnston that he might be worried, watching the teams around him in the race to avoid the play-offs bolster their squads. Partick Thistle have signed up the fearsome Lyle Taylor, who could be the man to convert their frequently wasted chances, and Ross County have brought fresh talent and have enjoyed an upturn in form as a result.

The Kilmarnock manager, though, is not about to panic buy. "It's all about improving the quality rather than getting as many people in as possible," he insisted. "We've improved in the last couple of months and if we can add one or two that would be step in the right direction."

The narrative of Thistle's season has become more of a conversation about home form. This is had at the same time every week by players sitting uncomfortably in front of dictaphones, although the Glasgow club have facilitated opportunities to discuss it in a more relaxed setting.

The Firhill side last season enlisted a sports psychologist, Shona Duffy, and her door has remained open for any player seeking help adjusting to aspects of life in the SPFL Premiership this term. An enduring inability to win a league game at home might come to mind, even if Duffy is on staff to force it away again.

She was brought in by the former manager Jackie McNamara to attend to the big issues facing the Firhill squad. Her practice might also be belittled by players who can still remember when such headaches were treated with a magic sponge, but the use of sports psychology in football has become prevalent.

Thistle will welcome any edge they can gain since a league fixture tomorrow is about mind over the matter of a home match against Kilmarnock. The Ayrshire side are just two points ahead in the table.

"We've got our own psychologist," said Alan Archibald, the Thistle manager. "We don't force it on them as a group, they just do it individually. Do I buy into it? Every individual is different and if you can get an extra 5% through a psychologist then brilliant. Some people who have played football long enough just won't buy into it, but we have to make everything available to the players and show them new and different things."

A psychologist might consider that evasive - "We [the coaching staff] are fine; it is harder for the players" - and Archibald could be forgiven were his attitude to harden towards small talk, since discussions with other managers about players moving to Thistle have been one-sided of late. The most significant improvement to the squad, though, could come from the players already in his charge.

"This will help their character," Archibald added. "Even the Ramsdens Cup defeat [by Queen of the South last season] was character building. You use that and, hopefully, they use that to improve."

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