WHEN Lewis Mayo first arrived at Partick Thistle back in January 2020, there is no way he could have known what the coming months had in store. He would make just three appearances for the Jags before the pandemic took hold in March, bringing all football to a grinding halt as the nation grappled with the crisis.

At that time, Thistle’s fortunes were very different. Ian McCall had replaced Gary Caldwell as manager a few months previous and the club were embroiled in a relegation scrap, fighting tooth and nail for every point as they bid to beat to the drop.

Of course, that opportunity would never come to fruition. Thistle’s fate was ultimately decided in a virtual boardroom after the season was curtailed, and the Jags found themselves relegated to the third tier.

Now, though, the mood music around Firhill is altogether different. Thistle’s barnstorming surge to the League One title last term is still fresh in the memories of supporters, while an encouraging start to the new season – albeit, one that has suffered a few hiccups in recent weeks – leaves room for cautious optimism.

“When I came in here the first time around it was a relegation fight,” Mayo recalled. “The circumstances were unfortunate that we never got the chance to see out the season because I think we felt that we had started to gain a bit of momentum.

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“But this time it’s a lot more positive. We’re looking to try and push up the top end of the league.

“We had a good start to the campaign this year – the past couple of results have been disappointing but we know that on our day we can beat anyone if we turn up. So that has to be our focus in every game.”

A win over Raith Rovers at Stark’s Park this afternoon would certainly raise spirits after defeats to Arbroath, Inverness and Kilmarnock recently. But having earned a call-up to Scot Gemmill’s Scotland Under-21s earlier this month, Mayo says he is feeling confident.

“It’s a different type of challenge – playing international football has its own style,” he said of the experience. “Teams do different things and try and hurt you in different ways and I think the two things go hand in hand: international experience helps you at club level, and playing competitive football at club level definitely helps you go and play for the 21s.

“There are different demands placed on playing in different games and playing in the Championship is very demanding physically; it’s very intense. The game is very fast and you get a lot of duels.

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“With international football, sometimes the game can be a bit slower. The game can be dictated by the shape and the formation that teams are playing, which sometimes is more about patience and being mentally focused for when they’re trying to play forward and hurt you. Like I say, it’s different styles and it’s all a great learning experience for a young player.

“I think the other thing you take from it is confidence. If you go away and do well at international level, you can bring that here but there’s also confidence from being selected. There is recognition there that what you’re doing, you’re doing well and there’s bits of the game that the coaches like when they watch you.”

It isn’t just McCall and Gemmill that have been keeping a close eye on the 21-year-old, though. Mayo’s parent club, Rangers, are also at hand to offer pointers and feedback after each performance.

“Billy Kirkwood is the loan manager,” he explained. “He was really good with me last year and that’s continued this season.

“He’ll try and watch games when he can and if he isn’t at a game, he’ll watch it midweek and then feed back to me – what I’m doing well, what I can work on. He tells me what’s expected of me but also how to play in the environment that I’m in.”

Today’s opponents are a familiar foe for Mayo, who spent last season on loan at their Fife rivals Dunfermline. There are few in the Championship better prepared for the threats that John McGlynn’s men pose and Mayo is well aware of just how stern an examination they will provide the Jags.

“I played against Raith when I was on loan at Dunfermline last year and they were really challenging games,” he added. “They’re a team that like to try and play; they’ll be open and expansive. That means they can sometimes open themselves up.

“We won one at East End 4-1 and then they won the next one at Stark’s Park 5-1. Both those games were very open, fast tempo, a lot of chances for both teams. Whichever team turned up on the day turned the other one over so it certainly won’t be easy.

“I think with the Inverness game and the Kilmarnock game, in both we came out the traps flying, started at a high tempo and looked dangerous. The disappointing thing is that in both games we lost that in the second half.

“We lost that intensity and that’s when we started to open up and concede chances. I think the learning curve is to be more clinical in both boxes but the bounce-back from those games is that training has been intense. It’s been a high standard and we’re all looking forward now.”