Had they taken to the skies in the aftermath of the derby cup exit, they may have received some backing, instead their ridiculous stunt was greeted with a mix of mirth, bemusement and, most importantly, defiance from the Hearts fans, who had once again packed into Tynecastle and who responded to the “No Style No Bottle Neilson Out” banner with boos and chants of “One Robbie Neilson”.
From the opposition manager and fans, who would dearly love to be flying as high in the league as Hearts, to the home players, there was simply disbelief. “I heard about it after the game,” said Hearts defender John Souttar, “and I thought it was unbelievable for fans to go out their way and pay money to say something like that when we’re sitting third in the league. We’ve won the last three and are second top goalscorers in the league.
“There’s more teams in worse positions than us. We’re sitting in a Europa League spot and are a team that just came up last year but if they want to spend their money on that it’s up to them.”
Having joined from Dundee United in January, Souttar knows what it is like to be at a struggling team and he doesn’t see any of those signs at Tynecastle.
Adamant that he has already grown in confidence and stature and developed as a player in his short spell in Gorgie, the youngster won one of the sponsors’ man of the match awards for a performance which displayed bottle and some style as he helped counter the aerial threat and physicality of Partick Thistle’s Mathias Pogba and aided and abetted in attack with some breaks forward.
There is no doubting that Osman Sow remains a miss in the frontline, with new signing Abiola Dauda not yet fully fit or fully acquainted with the demands of the Scottish top flight but still Hearts have negotiated three fixtures in a week, keeping three clean sheets, securing all nine points and moving to within six points of second-placed Aberdeen, with two head-to-heads remaining. But Saturday was an indication that other newcomers, Souttar and Don Cowie, have settled in and winger Jamie Walker is getting back to full pace.
Walker could have opened the scoring in the early stages but so too could Pogba and Steven Lawless at the other end before Hearts finally got the advantage their superior possession had been promising. They had come close in the 15th minute but an infringement in the build up saw Juanma’s ‘goal’ disallowed. A period of sustained pressure finally reaped dividends, though, when Cowie’s corner was headed home at the back post by Arnaud Djoum with 25 minutes gone.
But, while Thistle had conceded a combined tally of seven goals without reply in their two previous meetings with Neilson’s men, this is a Thistle team on the advance. Having set their sights on a place in the top six following the split, they are a side bursting with energy and intent but, much to the disappointment of their manager, Alan Archibald, they lacked the cutting edge.
They came back into the game in the second half, preventing Hearts from extending their lead and getting themselves close to getting some rewards for their efforts. But while they were raining balls in as time ran out, Hearts’ industry and resolve proved they certainly have the bottle for a battle, seeing out another win, their third in a week, to make a mockery of the message being trailed in the sky.
“They put a lot of demands on you and set standards,” said Souttar of the experienced players and management at Hearts. “The training regime here is second to none. That’s what results are built on, it’s not luck that we’re winning these games, it’s hard work.”