Christophe Berra’s first-half header was just one of multiple chances created by the visitors at the Energy Check Stadium at Firhill, but Christie Elliott’s equaliser 18 minutes from the end kept the Ladbrokes Championship side in the tournament.
The visitors dominated this quarter-final, hitting both the post and crossbar, but had to settle for a replay after Elliott plundered a chance at the back post. Fans who had travelled from Edinburgh were unhappy at the end, although there could be no faulting their team’s creative capabilities. The problem was finishing.
Without top goalscorer Steven Naismith due to a knee injury, Hearts were nonetheless strong favourites for this tie as fifth in the Premiership met bottom of the second tier. Cup games away to lower-league opponents can be notoriously hazardous, though. Partick hadn’t eliminated Hearts from the Scottish Cup since 1921 – the season they went on to lift the trophy for the only time in their history.
A strong start by the visitors indicated that they fully intended to extend that wait. Within 12 minutes they were in front. A rehearsed set-piece routine was executed to perfection, resulting in Berra’s netbound header. Oliver Bozanic fired a corner across to his fellow Australian Ben Garuccio outside the penalty area. He hooked a first-time ball into the area for Berra climb above Steven Saunders and send a looping header beyond the Thistle goalkeeper Conor Hazard from seven yards.
That sent the sizeable and noisy travelling support into raptures in the main stand. They quickly began teasing the home manager Gary Caldwell in front of them - the chance to noise up a former Hibs defender too good to miss.
Uche Ikpeazu then had an opportunity to double the lead from Steven MacLean’s through pass, but a timely challenge by Saunders smothered his shot.
The home support were frustrated at seeing their side concede possession too often and too cheaply. Passes went astray in midfield and Hearts capitalised by getting the ball wide and delivering multiple crosses into the opposition’s danger zone. Most of them came from the impressive Garuccio at left-back and his opposite full-back Marcus Godinho.
Hazard held a left-footed drive from Ikpeazu on 34 minutes as the final stages of a first half Hearts had dominated neared an end. Gary Harkins sent a free-kick over Bobby Zlamal’s crossbar before two decent chances for the visitors to kill the tie.
Ikpeazu indulged in some delightful footwork inside the penalty box before the break. Four keepie-ups left the Thistle defence bemused, but his lobbed finish was wide of target. Then came an even better opportunity, which Arnaud Djoum created by dribbling through to tee up Sean Clare. Somehow the midfielder didn’t force Hazard into action and another chance went abegging as he sent his effort high and wide.
The second period started in the same way as the Capital club continued pressing for a second goal. Clare’s powerful drive was touched on to the post by Hazard and, when the ball spun out, Ikpeazu headed onto the roof of the net. The notion that Hearts would eventually be punished for not converting this many chances was difficult to ignore. That certainly helped Partick grow in confidence as the minutes ticked by and the one-goal deficit remained.
Those thoughts became reality on 72 minutes. Craig Slater burst into the penalty area showing good close control before crossing towards the back post. There, lurking with intent, was the unmarked Elliott to tap home the equaliser from point-blank range and drag his team back into this cup tie.
The Glasgow side now believed they could go on and win and ventured forward in search of a winner. The game ebbed and flowed during the final minutes with both teams desperate to score but also concerned about losing a late goal which would have knocked them out. Referee Bobby Madden’s final whistle confirmed a replay at the end of a game in which Hearts should have been out of sight.
Partick Thistle (4-2-3-1): Hazard; McMillan (Storey 75), Anderson, Saunders, Penrice; Slater, Harkins; Elliott, Spittal (McGinty 86), Fitzpatrick (Cardle 69); Mansell. Unused subs: Sneddon, Doolan, McDonald, Gordon.
Hearts (4-2-3-1): Zlamal; Godinho, Souttar, Berra, Garuccio; Clare, Haring, Bozanic, Djoum; Ikpeazu, MacLean (Mulraney 80). Unused subs: Doyle, Lee, Dikamona, Vanecek, Keena, Hickey.
Referee: Bobby Madden.