TUNJI AKINOLA has hit the ground running at Firhill. But the 22-year-old centre-half won’t be slowing down anytime soon.

The Londoner found his career at a crossroads this summer after being released by West Ham, the club he had been contracted to for over a decade. After advancing through the ranks at the Premier League outfit’s fabled academy and getting his first taste of the men’s game out on loan at Leyton Orient last term, Akinola found himself looking for a new employer once his contract expired in the summer.

A friendly phone call from Thistle boss Ian McCall to his Hammers counterpart and old pal David Moyes was enough to convince the Jags to offer the young defender a one-year deal, and Akinola has quickly seized his chance in the heart of his new team’s defence.

A player of the month award for September would suggest that Akinola is adjusting well to life at Firhill – and the centre-half reckons his experience out on loan in England’s fourth tier during the previous campaign has been instrumental to his development thus far.

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“That was my first full month at the club so get to an award like this that’s voted for by the fans is special,” said Akinola, speaking after collecting the club's McCrea Financial Services Player of the Month award for September, voted for by supporters. “It shows they appreciate what I’m doing but I just want to keep going and keep doing well with the club.

“I’ve settled in well. A lot of the boys are a similar age to me, which makes life off the pitch easier. On the pitch, training is good and intense which is what I’m used to.

“The Championship is competitive. With the league that we’re in, you never get an easy game. You need to fight for three points. I was in England’s League Two last season and it’s the same thing – you need earn the right to compete in every game. It’s a battle, and it’s not dissimilar to here.

“That was my first experience of playing men’s football week in, week out and it is a tough league. The quality might not be the best all the time but as a defender especially, you’re getting tested physically.

“You need to make tackles, blocks and win your headers and it’s rough at times. But that made me stronger as a player, mentally and physically, and it was just so different to what I had been playing in the academy.

“Everything there was about nice, pretty football and in League Two it was a battle every week. You win the battle and then you have more chance of winning the game. I played about 30 games in the league last year and I learned a lot, so hopefully I can do the same again.

“I’m enjoying it. The fans seem happy but I’m not satisfied: I always want to do better than what I’m doing. We should have won more games last month than we did and I always want to get clean sheets.

“I’m quite picky with my performances but it’s always nice to hear from the fans that I’m doing well. I want to keep progressing and get us where we need to be – which is top of the table, really.”

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A victory over Hamilton this evening would certainly help in that regard. The recently-relegated side have struggled for form so far this season but for once, Akinola will not be stepping into the unknown when he crosses the white lines of the pitch tonight – and he won’t be short of motivation either.

“It’s a big game,” he added. “When I was on trial we played a friendly against them so I’ve played there before and it’s a nice pitch.

“They play good football so it will be a good game. It’s on TV as well so all my mates back home are going to have their eyes on it so I need to do well!”

The switch to Thistle is a novel experience for Akinola in more ways than one. Not only is the defender playing in Scotland for the first time – and playing first-team football on a permanent deal – but the move to Glasgow is the first time he has lived apart from his family.

A walk around the west end with his manager helped the West Ham academy graduate settle into his new surroundings and while his current deal expires at the end of the season, Akinola is keeping an open mind when it comes to planning his future.

“This is the first time I’ve moved out from home – even last year when I was on loan, I was still living in London,” he explained. “Either way, leaving my family was going to be a big change for me.

“When things are going well on the pitch and you’re focussing on your football, everything else just stays at its own pace. I’ve found it all right to be fair. When I first moved into the flat, the manager showed me where is good to go – and where to avoid as well!

“I’m not really looking too far into the future. I’m here for this season at least and we want to achieve as much as we can. Who knows what will happen come the end of the season – things can change so quickly in football. I want to build on my start here and do as best as I can for the team, then the future takes care of itself.”

Partick Thistle's Player of the Month Awards for season 2021/22 are proudly sponsored by McCrea Financial Services - visit www.mccreafs.co.uk to find out more.