It didn’t take long for Cara Henderson’s first goal for Partick Thistle to arrive. But the attacking midfielder’s last one in red-and-yellow will take some beating.

The 20-year-old, a summer signing from Glasgow Women, found the net on her debut for the Jags when she provided the team’s first goal of the season away to Hearts in the SWPL1 curtain-raiser as she hit the ground running for her new club. It was also her strike against Dundee United a fortnight ago that clinched a place in the top six for the Jags in only their second season in the top flight.

It is a remarkable achievement for Thistle, given they were only promoted to the top flight two years ago as a result of Forfar Farmington going bust a week or two before the campaign began. Nor did the Jags make it easy for themselves, requiring a thrilling 4-3 victory over Aberdeen and a 1-0 triumph over Dundee United to lift themselves back into the top half in their final two pre-split outings.

Henderson provided the game’s only goal as Brian Graham’s side realised their top-six dream and the midfielder had to keep her composure, too. After being slipped through for a one-on-one, she had a few anxious seconds to contemplate what she’d do next. Henderson needn’t have worried, though, as she coolly slotted the ball into the bottom corner. It sparked wild celebrations amongst her team-mates but her overriding emotion was something else altogether.

“It was a lot of relief, to be honest, because it was quite an intense run-in with other teams right behind us,” Henderson explains. “But it was an amazing feeling and I was just so happy for the team and everyone associated with the club. It was a real team effort to get us there.

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“I had actually missed a chance, probably not as easy as that, just before it and I’m not even kidding, it came into my head – ‘you cannot put this wide as well’. Luckily the goalkeeper was quite far to one side so I thought I’d just slip it past. But seconds before I was like ‘whatever you do, don’t do the same as before!’.”

The pressure was well and truly on for Thistle over the past few weeks but the players dealt with it admirably. Coached by Graham, who currently plays for the men’s team, Henderson feels the squad have a manager who can truly relate to their experiences on the park.

Graham can cut a sullen figure on occasion while playing for the men’s side and he isn’t exactly known for keeping his opinion to himself when a team-mate miscues a pass or fluffs a cross. Henderson feels that relentless desire to improve has rubbed off on the players and feels the 36-year-old has struck the right balance between encouraging and criticising the team.

“It's funny, I actually thought that he was spot-on,” Henderson said. “It was really good to have someone that plays the game as well and understands that type of pressure. At no point did I think it was too little or too much; the balance was just right.

“It was really important because when you are so close to it and it’s in your hands, if we hadn’t won then it would have felt like a real disappointment. But I felt confident the whole time – the girls were in a really good place. I thought Brian was superb, as were all the coaching staff. The fact that Brian still plays the game was a really big factor because he knows how to motivate you in the right way.”

The Herald:

Thistle’s rise since Graham took the reins two and a half years ago has been impressive but the man himself says the secret to the team’s success is simple: the players and the coaching staff all share a steely determination that they can always do better.

They will certainly be up against it for their next 10 games, starting this afternoon against Hearts at Petershill. With Celtic, Rangers and Glasgow City operating as full-time clubs – and Hearts and Hibs utilising a hybrid model – the Jags are the only part-timers in the top six. That won’t stop Graham from aiming high and given the strides the team have made in recent years, it’s hard to blame him.

“I always try and instil belief in the girls,” he explained. “When we first took over, that was their highest finish – third. We were going for promotion in our first year, which was incredible, and then we obviously got up and we reached a Scottish Cup semi-final. Then we get top six in our second year in the league so it has come on leaps and bounds.

“There is still a long way to go and a lot of things we need to improve on but it is a club that’s building and hopefully we can keep getting the funding because we will need that to progress. The league is only getting stronger and now in these 10 games we are playing against five full-time teams. So it is going to be extremely difficult but we have just got to get out there.

“The games are all free hits for us; we have done what we wanted to do and finished in the top six. We want to get out there and enjoy our football but to also try and improve. I would never question my girls’ character and I’m looking forward to us playing with the shackles off. The result doesn’t matter now so it’s all just about trying to progress in these last 10 games.

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“I don’t think it is [an overachievement]. People probably think it is an overachievement but when you’re working with the girls week in, week out… Listen, we’re part-time but if you look at the men’s league, a part-time outfit train Tuesday and Thursday. My girls are out there Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and then they play on a Sunday.

“They are committed. They all have full-time jobs and they are still turning out three nights a week for me at Petershill so I believed in them. There was probably a wee bit of doubt within the players themselves at the start but we’ve went and did it. Not a single team in the bottom half beat us this season and that’s a huge credit to my girls. That’s why we are where we are.”