WHEN it was all over, members of the Thistle entourage wore ghostly expressions as they filtered through the exits. The fun, it would appear, is over. These are now serious times, indeed.

Earlier in the season, when they topped Division 1, life was a hoot, smiles abounded, all was fine and dandy. Now? Well, it seems that gloom, doom and depression has swept through the old Glasgow club. Mind you, the threat of relegation, which is now real, can have such an effect.

Thistle's latest offering was abysmal. Goals from Sean O'Connor, Jim Lauchlan, and two by Stephen Dobbie had Queens coasting.

Indeed, had the home side not been forced to make changes due to injury and fatigue - alterations that allowed Mark McChrystal, Mark Roberts and Pat Keogh to offer Thistle's support hope that most of their play did not deserve - the defeat may well have been much, much heavier.

Thistle's problem is glaringly obvious and has been for some time. Their defensive structure is a shambolic mess. The concern at the weekend was that the midfield division also sunk to near that level, while as regards the strikeforce, it was a case of what strikeforce?' When Queens attacked, it was done swiftly and with precision, and it appeared that every time they crossed the halfway line, mayhem would result for their opponents. When Thistle had possession, they progressed, eventually, what-ever threat they carried usually was extinguished far from goal.

Dick Campbell, the Thistle manager, is well aware the onus is on him to right the team's wrongs. "I know the buck stops with me," he was at pains to say, "I never run away from things."

This is reassuring to know, but what the paying customers would probably like to ascertain is what can be done to halt the cataclysmic decline?

The manager's answer was not awfully convincing. "What we have to do is learn and get the balance right," he said. Fine, but has he not been trying to achieve this all season and, recently, matters have gone from bad to worse.

Still, Campbell should be wished well in his task, and this weekend the pressure of the league will be set aside as Thistle make the long trek to Deveronvale for a Tennent's Scottish Cup tie that they really should win, although with that defence . . .

As regards Queen of the South, manager Ian McCall has assembled a bunch of willing, sometimes gifted men, and on this latest evidence, relegation should not be a concern.