Andraz Struna’s late equaliser prevented defeat for Hearts against ten-man Partick Thistle on a dramatic day at Tynecastle. The Firhill side were leading 2-1 with three minutes left when Struna popped up at the back post to convert Sam Nicholson’s cross.
Kris Doolan’s eighth goal in 11 games had the visitors 1-0 ahead before they saw Danny Devine ordered off. The defender was penalised in the box which gave Esmael Goncalves Hearts’ first equaliser. However, Steven Lawless restored Thistle’s advantage three minutes later.
Struna’s late strike salvaged a point and Goncalves really should have won the game in stoppage time. His weak finish when one-on-one with Tomas Cerny was stopped by the outstanding Partick goalkeeper, who denied Hearts repeatedly during the second half.
Home fans left Tynecastle frustrated at their team’s inability to dominate given their one-man advantage. However, for Thistle, this was further evidence of their progress under the astute Alan Archibald. They will now proceed with confidence into the remaining four post-split fixtures.
After two consecutive clean sheets, the Hearts head coach Ian Cathro wisely kept faith with the same defensive personnel. However, he changed to a three-man back line of Liam Smith, Prince Buaben and Krystian Nowak. Struna and Moha Choulay began as wing-backs, with captain Perry Kitchen demoted to the substitutes’ bench.
Thistle’s injury problems robbed them of the reliable centre-back Liam Lindsay. As a result, they changed from their favoured back three to a four-man defence. The Glasgow club were seeking to continue an impressive run of form which secured a top-six place - their best finish since 1981.
More important than tactics was personnel and which group could execute their manager’s gameplan better. A fairly even start saw Hearts using the ball better without fashioning any clear scoring opportunities. They looked most threatening down the left as Choulay got forward regularly to deliver several teasing crosses.
The visitors tried to play on the break and Hearts goalkeeper Jack Hamilton had to react quickly to thwart one counter-attack on the half-hour mark. Christie Elliott’s driven cross from the right careered off the sliding Nowak, but Hamilton was alive and held the ball as it spun towards him.
Prince Buaben showed brilliant composure moments later when a deflected ball landed in behind the home defence. The Ghanaian first stopped the ball and pivoted under pressure from Doolan. Buaben slipped but recovered to win a tackle and calmly pass the ball into midfield.
The closest thing to a first-half goal came when Struna rattled the Thistle crossbar on 38 minutes. Choulay’s determined run and cutback led to mishit shot by Goncalves, but the Slovenian instantly volleyed the loose ball at goal with impressive technique. He was unfortunate to see it rebound off the bar with the Cerny beaten.
Hearts finished the first half strongly with two Jamie Walker shots being deflected wide. However, five minutes after the restart they found themselves behind. Lawless found space on the right for a clipped cross to the back post, where the predatory Doolan was lurking unmarked to head home.
That brought the pocket of travelling fans from Maryhill to life whilst also angering the home support. It was the start of a breathless second period. Goncalves sent a header wide just a minute later, which further irked the Hearts followers. Cerny then held Don Cowie’s effort on the run.
The Czech produced an outstanding save from the same player on the hour mark as Hearts increased the pace in search of an equaliser. He then stopped Arnaud Djoum’s header from a corner and pushed the rebound for a corner with Thistle in desperate need of respite at that stage.
Eventually, the visitors forced their way forward and ought to have finished this game as a contest. Doolan held up play and lofted a superb ball through to Chris Erskine, who was allowed a ridiculous amount of space. He evaded Nowak’s sliding challenge only to see the emerging Hamilton in the way of his shot.
Thistle were left ruing that opportunity when Hearts restored parity. Cerny’s poor ball out from the penalty area landed with Cowie, who drove forward for a shot which Devine was judged to have handled. Referee Andrew Dallas had no hesitation awarding a penalty and issuing a straight second yellow card to Devine - much to Partick’s disgust.
Goncalves dispatched the penalty comprehensively beyond Cerny, although the satisfaction was short-lived for those in maroon. Three minutes after the equaliser, Thistle restored their advantage. Erskine’s carefully measured through pass found Lawless scampering in behind a rather static Hearts rearguard. The forward had no problem stroking the ball home to give the ten men a priceless 2-1 lead for the closing stages.
Another one-handed save by Cerny stopped Djoum’s header, and the goalkeeper also held Walker’s free-kick as Hearts again laid siege at the Gorgie Road end. Three minutes from the end of regulation time they forced another levelling goal. Substitute Sam Nicholson’s run and cross was deflected into the path of Struna, who finished with confidence at the back post.
The game entered four minutes of stoppage-time when Goncalves was presented with a glorious chance to steal three points. From substitute Bjorn Johnsen’s prodded pass, the Portuguese sprinted in behind the Partick defence but his finish was tame and Cerny collected the ball low to his left.