Hearts had to battle back twice in this one but, ultimately forced to make do with a share of the points, they still could not salvage their dwindling hopes of qualifying for Europe. That task now looks beyond them, with the games against the teams above them, three of them away from home, likely to pose an even bigger issue than a Partick Thistle side reduced to ten men.
The only good news is that Andraz Struna’s 87th minute equaliser allowed Ian Cathro’s team to safeguard the four-point gap between themselves and their guests as they try to avoid slipping any further down the standings but St Johnstone’s victory over Aberdeen saw the Perth side extend their advantage in the chase for a fourth-place finish and the possible shot at Europa League that could bestow.
Tommy Wright’s men now enjoy a six-point cushion over the Gorgie side and while Cathro and his players insist that progress has been made in the 15 days since their last league outing, the Hearts manager is the first to concede that as far as proving that to onlookers, only results really matter.
There were enough chances created for his side to have won this one but they were unable to capitalise on them fully.
“There is a feeling of disappointment, frustration, maybe a tiny wee bit of shock,” said the Tynecastle boss. “I felt we did more than enough but you always make it more difficult for yourself when you need to score three goals because of some errors in our defensive work. But I think that’s a game that the majority of times we play, we win.
“My concern at Kilmarnock was that for all the control we had, we never hurt them enough. That wasn’t a problem today. The only thing missing was us putting the ball in the net and scoring goals.”
The home side had tried to mix things up a bit, playing three at the back, where Prince Buaben was utilised in the sweeper role, but while that gave them greater flow and more attacking options, it did not always have the clinical conclusion Hearts hoped for.
Some of that was down to poor finishing but Thistle also played a part, with the defenders, assisted by Adam Barton ahead of them, quickly reacting to danger and swarming home players so that finding a way through to goal was difficult. When Hearts did carve out gaps, goalkeeper Tomas Cerny also proved an uncompromising foe. Arnaud Djoum, Don Cowie and Jamie Walker were all foiled, while Goncalves had the opportunity to net at least a hat-trick.
The most clearcut chance of the first half came in the 38th minute when Danny Devine blocked a Goncalves effort and the rebound fell to Hearts’ Slovenian wingback whose volley crashed off the bar.
But despite the home side’s early pressing, Thistle were still able to edge their way into the game without sustaining any damage and actually strike the first blow.
In the 50th minute Thistle finally found a way to break the deadlock when Steven Lawless scampered down the right wing and popped a cross in for the unmarked Kris Doolan to head past Jack Hamilton.
Hearts tried to respond but Goncalves sent his header wide of target.
It summed up the difference between the sides, with one squandering the kind of openings the other gratefully converted.
Thistle fancied themselves at that stage and the fact that Hearts were given the chance to level things from the spot was a source of frustration to Thistle manager Alan Archibald, who saw Devine red-carded for a handball and Goncalves convert the resultant penalty.
“He goes to block the shot and his arms come across his body to block it and it hits him. Don’t know what he can do,” he said. “You will see another ten of those incidents next season, and they will be called differently. I don’t feel like there are any set rules. ”
Down to ten men, Thistle hit back within the minute as another lapse in concentration at the back proved costly for the home side as Lawless reestablished the Firhill side’s lead.
But with three minutes remaining, substitute Sam Nicholson launched a ball into the area and, this time Struna made sure that he hit the net.