Twice coming from behind at Tynecastle, Partick Thistle secured the three vital points that they needed to ensure they will stay in Scotland’s top flight next season.
Scorers: Hearts - Paterson (16), Wilson (41); Partick - Taylor (31), Fraser (51), Mair (68), Higginbotham (73)
Other than the goals, the biggest cheer from the majority of the 14,000 crowd came at the end when it was confirmed that Kilmarnock’s victory over St Mirren will ensure Hearts’ city rivals Hibs must beat the Ayrshire men to survive.
Both sides were hailed by their fans at the end, the Thistle contingent out of relief at staying up, the Hearts support just grateful to have a club at all. Emotional stuff all round.
Hearts’ weekend hat-trick hero Ryan Stevenson was out injured, manager Gary Locke bringing back Jamie Hamill, and also giving under-20 team goalkeeper Mark Ridgers a first start of the season. Thistle manager Alan Archibald put Kris Doolan and Chris Erskine on the bench, drafting Lyle Taylor and Christie Elliott into the attack.
After a nervy, scrappy opening, Hearts were looking keen to flow forward in attack as they have done recently, while it took Thistle 12 minutes to threaten the home goal.
Stuart Bannigan’s low effort from 25 yards whistled by Ridgers’ left post, the goalkeeper having to look lively to clutch a Kallum Higginbotham volley shortly afterwards.
Without creating any serious opportunities, Hearts had nevertheless looked sharp on the ball and it was no surprise when they took the lead after 16 minutes through a fine solo effort from Callum Paterson.
As he forged forward from his right-back position, Hearts’ top scorer was allowed to travel to the edge of the box from where he fired in a low swerving shot that beat Paul Gallacher to nestle in the side netting.
Billy King should have made it two less than four minutes later when Dale Carrick’s inch-perfect pass bisected the visitors’ defence and put King one-on-one against Gallacher. The Hearts player lost his nerve, however, and blasted his shot high over the crossbar.
Higginbotham is usually a shoot-on-sight man but his 21st-minute effort was telegraphed and gave Ridgers no trouble. The Englishman’s speed of thought, however, was instrumental in setting up Thistle’s 31st-minute equaliser.
Collecting the ball on the left wing, Higginbotham immediately sent an adroit pass behind the Hearts defence into the path of Taylor who knocked the ball almost nonchalantly between Ridger’s legs. By this point it was clear that both sides were pretty evenly matched, Thistle evidencing more effort but Hearts having the greater incision.
After Taylor went close with a header, Hearts went ahead in the 41st minute. Jordan McMillan brought down Sam Nicholson and the resultant free-kick was despatched to the back post by Kevin McHattie for Danny Wilson to head powerfully home.
Scott Robinson was booked on the stroke of half time for deliberate handball.
Five minutes into the second half, Taylor looked to have gained the equaliser with a well-struck swerving volley, but assistant referee Graham Chambers had flagged for offside.
A minute later, Gary Fraser obviously decided that the officials should be taken out of the equation as he collected Elliott’s neat pass and lashed the ball high past Ridgers from 25 yards.
This match had developed into a thoroughly entertaining end-to-end encounter, and McHattie was next to have a go, his 30-yard free-kick whistling past Gallacher’s left upright, before Ridgers had to look lively to tip a deflected Taylor shot over the bar.
Playing now in a drizzle, the ball fairly zipped across the pitch, but it was the aerial route that paid dividends for Thistle after 68 minutes.
Wilson conceded a corner on the Thistle left wing, Higginbotham’s deep cross was headed diagonally back across the goal by Aaron Taylor-Sinclair and Lee Mair emerged between defenders to nod the ball past Ridgers.
Thistle now had their tails up and went in search of a fourth that would surely make them safe. They promptly got it.
Paterson failed to intercept a long pass, Taylor sprinted clear and fired in a fierce shot which Ridgers did well to parry, only to see Higginbotham haring in to smash the ball under the goalkeeper. Higginbotham removed his shirt in the midst of his joy and was duly booked. Stupid rule, really.
Conspiracy theorists down Easter Road way may think Hearts ‘assisted’ Thistle to ensure that Hibs stayed in the play-off place but nothing could be further from the truth as the men in maroon battled to the end.
Hearts: Ridgers, Paterson (McKay 88), McGowan, Wilson, McHattie, King (Walker 67), Holt, Hamill, Robinson (Smith 67), Nicholson, Carrick. Subs Not Used: MacDonald, Oliver, McGhee, Beith.
Partick: Paul Gallacher, McMillan, Mair, Balatoni, Sinclair, Elliot, Fraser, Bannigan (Erskine 65), Higginbotham (Piccolo 84), Craigen, Taylor (Doolan 79). Subs Not Used: Fox, Lawless, Moncur, Wilson.