PARTICK THISTLE defender Niall Keown has sprung to the defence of Scottish football after former Celtic striker Craig Bellamy claimed that nobody in England cares about the game up here. Keown moved north at the start of the year to join Alan Archibald’s men and enjoyed his initial loan spell from Reading so much that he opted to make his stay permanent in the summer.

The 22 year-old admitted that champions Celtic are miles ahead of the other clubs given their superior resources but that the rest of the league is as competitive as anything he has played in before. And he denied that people down south were looking down their noses at the Scottish game.

Keown said: “I don’t think people in England regard Scottish football as inferior. They know that there’s probably quite a big gap between the team who’s been winning the league in recent years, Celtic, and the rest of the league which has been in true in terms of points in the last season particularly. So I don’t think you can argue with that.

“From what I’ve seen and from my involvement, it’s been very competitive and quite a challenge. There’s quite a difference within the league. The top teams are playing some really good football and then it’s more of a battle down the bottom of the league. In terms of developing as a player there’s everything in the league.

“I still had a year left at Reading so I didn’t have to leave but such was the opportunity up here and how I enjoyed it in my six months here last season. Getting the chance to come back and work with the manager again and be with that same group of players I was very keen to come back up here. That’s why I made that decision.

“Being on the fringes and on the bench at Reading I wasn’t really getting that chance to play regularly so for me it was an easy decision with that opportunity here.”

Thistle gained a lot of plaudits for their two performances against Rangers over the past week, although there was also disappointment at tumbling out of the Betfred Cup to the Ibrox side after extra-time on Tuesday night. Keown hoped they could channel that frustration in the best possible way by beating Hearts at home this afternoon.

He added: “We will take a lot of confidence from our last two games. We know how good we are as a team and we know that we haven’t really done ourselves justice in the league so far. Our full focus is on the league, improving our position and starting to get some points, hopefully starting with a win today.

“We knew that we were good enough to beat Rangers the other night and we’re still disappointed that we didn’t. That’s the level we’re at. We feel like we can still compete with them. So we need to channel that disappointment into this game and improve in the league.”

Keown’s dad Martin, the former Arsenal and England ace, has been at several Thistle games this season and Niall is always happy to take his feedback on board.

He added: “I always appreciate his support, he and my mum come to any game they can. Obviously he’s got other commitments now he’s on the other side of the camera so he often can’t come to every game. Having him there is good. I obviously play in the same position as he did so he has an opinion on everything and he puts that across.”