Hearts 1 - 1 Partick Thistle: New stand but same old story

A gleaming new stand - but the same old glaring problem for Hearts under Craig Levein.

Kris Doolan celebrates his late equaliser for Partick Thistle. Picture: SNS

As the manager had warned when their Murrayfield tenancy came to an end the previous week, the venue will have little relevance unless his players can achieve a significantly improved level of performance.

A week of uncertainty over their return to Tynecastle, with Edinburgh City Council finally granting a safety certificate for the £14 million Main Stand late on Saturday night, ended in frustration for those of a maroon persuasion as substitute Kris Doolan’s controversial late equaliser cancelled out Esmael Goncalves’ fifth goal of the season and prevented Hearts marking the day with a victory.

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The pyrotechnics before kick-off were not matched by the standard of football served up as the winless run for Levein’s side stretched to four games.

There was an almost comedic inevitability about a 15-minute delay to kick-off, the announcement of which was met with a derisory response from the 534 Partick Thistle fans in attendance who had spent all week wondering if their journey along the M8 would happen.

While there was no shortage of energy and eagerness from the Hearts players as they attempted to make a positive and immediate statement on their return to home soil, there was a glaring lack of imagination and penetration whenever they found their way into their attacking third of the pitch in a stale first half which saw neither goalkeeper called into serious action.

Thistle’s three-man central defence of Niall Keown, Jordan Turnbull and Daniel Devine were resolute and disciplined in subduing Hearts strikers Kyle Lafferty and Goncalves during this period as the atmosphere inside the revamped ground fell flat.

Opportunities for both sides were few and far between, Keown posing the first threat of any sort when he headed over from Blair Spittal’s corner in the 15th minute.

Lafferty tried to engineer some space for himself when he collected a Jamie Brandon pass just outside the penalty area but his left foot shot was well wide of Tomas Cerny’s right-hand post.

There was little to get the fans off their shiny new seats in the Main Stand, although David Milinkovic did raise the noise levels a little on a couple of occasions. The Serbian midfielder’s pace and directness carried potential danger for Thistle on the counter attack.

But for a heavy first touch from Milinkovic at the start of one such raid, allowing Paul McGinn to make a sharp intervention, he might have found himself free on goal.

It was the visitors who should have made the breakthrough a minute before the interval, courtesy of an error from Hearts’ veteran central defender Aaron Hughes. The Northern Ireland international lost control of the ball under no real pressure to present Miles Storey with a clear run into the penalty area.

The Thistle striker appeared to have all the advantages as he moved in on Jon McLaughlin but he screwed his left-foot shot tamely wide of the Hearts keeper’s left-hand post.

Archibald’s men would come to rue that miss when Goncalves finally brought the match to life with his goal nine minutes into the second half. Hearts had resumed the contest with a brighter and more cohesive approach which was rewarded with the 54th minute breakthrough.

Goncalves bustled his way infield from the left and found space to curl in a right-foot shot from the corner of the penalty area. The presence of Lafferty obscured Cerny’s view of the ball with the big Northern Ireland striker jumping smartly at just the moment to allow it to travel underneath him and into the corner of the net.

Archibald didn’t hang about before making a change in a bid to effect a response, replacing Storey with Doolan in what ultimately proved to be an inspired substitution. The battle-hardened striker so nearly made the immediate impact his manager would have hoped for, only to be denied a clear shot at goal inside the Hearts penalty area by a vital and brilliantly timed tackle from Christophe Berra.

There was a sense Hearts might require the security of a second goal and Berra came close to providing it when his header from a Don Cowie free-kick drifted wide of Cerny’s right-hand post.

Levein decided to try and close the game out by protecting the narrow advantage, making a double substitution in the closing stages which did not earn the unanimous backing of the home support as he withdrew both strikers, Goncalves and Lafferty, and replaced them with Jamie Walker and Cole Stockton, switching to a 4-5-1 formation.

It did not have the effect Levein desired. Just two minutes after the changes were made, Thistle equalised. Spittal’s sweetly delivered free-kick from the left caused uncertainty in the heart of the home defence who felt a visiting hand was used in the melee which saw the ball break kindly into the path of Doolan. He played to the whistle and showed that his poacher’s instinct remains as sharp as ever with a firm close-range shot which left McLaughlin helpless.

Hearts sent on academy graduate Aiden Keena, an 18-year-old Irish striker, for his debut but there would be no fairytale finish for the Gorgie club on a day when their homecoming proved more than a little anti-climactic.