GARY Locke praised the indomitable spirit of his Hearts team last night after they fought back to claim a remarkable point at Firhill.
Partick Thistle dominated the game and should have been out of sight before half-time before finally taking the lead through an Aaron Muirhead penalty with less than five minutes still to play. However, Hearts hit back just two minutes later when Jamie Walker scored with a shot from inside the box.
Walker had conceded the penalty with a push on John Baird, but in truth the midfielder’s team-mates in the back four had also allowed Thistle numerous chances in open play, particularly in the first half.
“It’s a difficult place to come,” the Hearts manager said. “First half they played really well – they passed it well and we found it difficult. We weren’t at the races. But we had a couple of choice words at half-time, and in the second half we were a different team.
“The players showed unbelievable character again, and showed that they’re fighting for the cause. It was certainly a goal deserving of an equaliser.
“Thistle never surprised me, because I watched them three or four times and said to my players they pass the ball really well.
“They caused us all sorts of problems first half, and that was the disappointing thing because we knew their strengths. But second half we pushed up on them a wee bit and stopped them from playing as much.
“The spirit’s there. It’s been a difficult week – a lot of the boys were away, so preparation wasn’t great. But they showed they’re willing to battle right till the very end and it was great to get an equaliser.
“I thought Brad McKay played very, very well. It’s a great learning curve for them. Jamie switched off a bit for the corner, but he’s come up with a wonderful strike to get us back in the game.”
No-one at Hearts is at all tempted to underestimate the scale of the task that faces them. Particularly with two transfer-window embargoes on top of that 15-point penalty, they are extremely vulnerable to the run-of-the-mill injuries which they would previously have taken in their stride.
In years past, for example, the loss of a midfielder such as Ryan Stevenson, while regrettable, would not in itself be a massive blow. This season, losing Stevenson for two or three months – the likely result of the injury he sustained during last Sunday’s Edinburgh derby – leaves Locke’s squad more threadbare than ever. With team spirit such as this, however, they are at least giving themselves a fighting chance of beating the drop.
Partick Thistle manager Alan Archibald rightly argued that his team had done more than enough to win, but added that, while disappointed by the outcome, his players should be proud of the way in which they have begun the season. “I thought we deserved three points – it felt like a defeat at the end, to be honest,” he said. “The fact we were a goal up with five minutes to go, it always seems a defeat if you don’t win.
“I thought we dominated play, we dominated possession, we passed the ball really well. I thought we were a credit to ourselves and to the club, the way we went about our business. They were brave passing the ball in dangerous areas, they just needed to be a bit more clinical in the final third and we would have been ahead.”
With two home draws and an away win, Thistle are still unbeaten, as Archibald reminded a downcast group of players in the dressing room after the game.
“I’m trying to stress that to them in there,” he said. “They’ve got their heads down but should put them back up, because it shows how far we’ve come that we’re disappointed not winning against Hearts.
“As a defender myself I know as soon as you score, as a defender and as a team, you seem to take that wee yard back. You drop back thinking it’s going to help and it doesn’t. When you score you want to keep the ball for that two minutes and get them out the road. We couldn’t do that and you’re always worried about that as a manager.
“I thought we passed the ball really well – some intricate passing that was good to watch. I know we can do it – it’s just getting the belief and confidence to go and do it.
“We were just missing goals. We got goals last week and that was missing tonight. It was disappointing with the backing we had – I thought the fans were outstanding.
“I’ve not decided yet if I need to strengthen in that area. We scored three at Ross County last week. We couldn’t score against Dundee United then last week everything was rosy.”
Archibald added that captain Sean Welsh, who was injured in the first half and did not resume the second, had a bad dead leg.