SCOTT FOX hopes a gruelling pre-season schedule will give him the edge in the Firhill glove battle this season.
The Partick Thistle keeper has been put through his paces by boss Alan Archibald and coach Paul Gallacher in recent weeks, with his mentor also pushing for the Jags No.1 jersey.
After starting last term as first-choice shot-stopper and winning a place in the Scotland squad, injury cost Fox his Jags berth as Gallacher helped Thistle retain their Premiership place.
But the 27-year-old is fighting fit ahead of the new campaign as he gears up for the visit of Sunderland to Firhill tonight.
Fox said: "It has been a tough pre-season, but it stands you in good stead. We did the same last year and it showed once the season started that it did us good.
"We have taken the basis of that again this year and built on it. Gall has worked us hard.
"I have done the most running I have done in pre-season for a good few years, but I am feeling the benefit of it.
"We have done a lot of testing and the results have come back better so it shows we are going in the right direction.
"You need to do the hard work before the season starts.
"It is important getting that fitness, but you need games as well and I have played a few times now and I will be ready to go come the start of the season."
Thistle's first campaign back in Scotland's top flight proved a mixed one for Fox.
His fine early season form and international recognition was followed by a long spell on the sidelines.
He returned to action on the final day against Ross County but suffered ankle damage and had to be stretchered off at Firhill as Thistle slipped to a 3-2 defeat. And the keeper is determined to put in the work to ensure he is fit to challenge Gallacher.
He said: "The injury is fine. I do a bit of work on it before training every day just to keep on top of it. I have just added it into my routine.
"The tendons and ligaments won't be the same so I need to keep working on it to keep them strong. It is only an extra 20 minutes every morning but it does benefit me.
"I can't allow any weakness to come back into it so I need to keep doing the rehab work.
"When I got the injury last year, Gall came in and did really well so I need to stay as fit as I can this year."
With just a week to go until Thistle kick-off their campaign against County, Archibald still has a major selection dilemma on his hands. Both keepers have seen action during the Jags' summer schedule in recent weeks and Fox is eager to win the battle for the starting jersey.
He said: "It is the manager that makes the decision and the two of us can only work as hard as we can and wait and see.
"We need to perform when selected and then see who the manager chooses. The place is up for grabs.
"I have been here a while now and the manager knows what we can both do. At the start of the season, it is up to him to make the final decision about who plays.
"It is a shame that we don't have the Celtic game first, but we are looking forward to the County game on the Wednesday.
"We are playing catch-up a bit. After going through pre-season, you want to get started and play as soon as possible.
"We have to wait a few extra days but we have big games coming up and we are determined to get off to a good start."