THIS was an opportunity too good to pass up for Hearts although for the first 45 minutes they swithered about it. Win and they moved into second place, courtesy of Aberdeen’s defeat by Celtic earlier in the afternoon. Against a team stranded at the other end of the table, they eventually made the most of that invitation.
Two penalties and a red card for Ryan Scully gave them a helping hand as they strolled to a convincing triumph in the end but the fact they had dallied before making the most of things frustrated their manager Robbie Neilson and left his counterpart Alan Archibald wondering just how his men could allow the game to be turned so effectively on its head.
In the days before the game Neilson had said he would be aware of proceedings at Parkhead but he wouldn’t make a big deal of any chance it presented his men. As far as he was concerned it remains too early for final conclusions to be drawn, but he was relishing the idea of being in the mix at the top.
The players seemed less enamoured by that notion as the first half wound itself down, with the Firhill hosts more than matching Hearts in terms of play, albeit trailing by a solitary goal as they headed back to the dressing rooms. But, buoyed by some tough talking at the interval Hearts ultimately proved clinical when it counted.
That was the crucial difference, as a fairly even match swayed heavily in favour of the visitors the minute they took the advantage. The first goal settled them, the second settled the match, much to the chagrin of the Partick Thistle boss and the relief of the travelling contingent.
There was relief but not the satisfaction for Neilson. His two main strikers weighed in with two goals each but that wasn’t enough of a contribution according to their gaffer. High standards have been set and he made it clear that he won’t happily settle for anything less.
“In the first half we were poor and Partick were the better team. We managed to get the goal with a wee bit of quality and built on that to make it a good day. The strikers scored two good goals but I don’t think they played very well to be honest. The rest of their game could be better and should be better.”
The capital side had been forced to rejig the defence and with Blazej Augustyn suspended Jordan McGhee moved to the heart of the back line, while the man who scored his debut goal in the midweek League Cup fixture, Arnaud Djoum, replaced Morgaro Gomis in the centre of the park. It was a demonstration of the depth of decent quality players the Tynecastle club can now call on.
That gap in quality was not obvious in the opening skirmishes, with Partick Thistle’s pace and willingness to run at the opposition causing some consternation in the Hearts ranks.
Although sitting second bottom they had found some form of late with two wins and a draw in their last three games. Down the right David Amoo was an offensive threat, while Stuart Brannigan was making himself busy irritating the visiting defence.
The game ebbed and flowed as both teams tried to gain the upperhand and when the breakthrough came it was marginally against the run of play. In the 38th minute Danny Swanson’s free kick was headed goalwards by Sam Nicholson. Stand-in keeper Scully got a hand to that one but when the ball fell to Osman Sow he played it back across goal for Juanma to finish. Still a finely balanced game, it swung completely in Hearts’ favour in the 51st minute. Brannigan lost out to Juanma and he played in Sow. While young Liam Lindsay tried to intervene the ball broke favourably to the Swedish striker and he slotted it into the net.
That seemed to signal a surrender from Thistle, which did not please Archibald. “You are still in a game at 2-0 but I was disappointed with the lads’ reaction and it did knock the stuffing out of us. It was a poor goal and a number of mistakes in it and we should have dealt with it better.”
But worse was to come as first Juanma and then Sow slotted away penalties, in the 63rd and 85th minute respectively. The first was a result of Djoum being toppled by Lindsay. The second came courtesy of Scully bringing down Sow as he charged through, almost unobstructed, on goal. It earned him a red card and will mean veteran keeper Paul Gallacher will be called on next week.
Partick Thistle: Scully, Seaborne (Frans 66), Welsh (Muirhead 58), Booth, Osman, Amoo, Bannigan, Lawless (Stevenson 54), Dumbuya, Lindsay, Pogba.
Hearts: Alexander, Paterson, Oshaniwa, Rossi, McGhee, Buaben, Djoum, Swanson (Gomis 58), Nicholson (Zanatta 71), Juanma (King 64), Sow.