SPFL Ladbrokes Premiership
Sat 5 March, 2016. Kick Off: - 15:00
Fresh off the back of a midweek success in Perth, Thistle return to action tomorrow afternoon with a trip to Tynecastle. This seasons games against Hearts haven’t been enjoyable from a Thistle perspective, something that manager Alan Archibald hopes will change tomorrow.
“We haven’t been able to hurt them at all in our previous two league meetings. At Tynecastle in August I don’t think we had a shot on target such was their superiority. In the game at Firhill, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong and we ended up on the reverse of a heavy defeat.
“Hearts are a strong physical team and they have threats all over the place that can hurt you. We need to defend well in the opening stages to give ourselves a chance at being able to get something against them. If we concede a poor goal then it gives us a mountain to climb and it’ll be a long way back, so we’ll need to be disciplined and resolute.”
As Thistle approach 100 hours of competitive action without a penalty kick, the side have conceded three already this season to Hearts and the gaffer
“They’ve had double figures of penalties awarded this season because they get people into the box making lots of direct, dangerous runs. We’ll have to track the runs and make sure we don’t commit any silly fouls inside the box. We’ve conceded three penalties to them already and they’ve scored from every opportunity, despite Tomas saving the one at Tynecastle. They are a dangerous, ruthless side without us giving them soft, easy opportunities from the penalty spot.”
Thistle showed a lot of hunger and desire to secure the points in Perth, something the manager is hoping the side can replicate in Edinburgh.
“We’ll need to show the same hunger that we showed against St Johnstone on Wednesday to get anything from Tynecastle. At this stage of the season it isn’t about pretty football, although you always want to play the most attractive that you can. It’s about winning your individual battles all over the pitch and working as a team to give us the best chance of success.”
Finally we concluded with tomorrow’s team news.
“Frederic Frans will continue to miss out tomorrow, which leaves us a little light in terms of defensive players. We do have several players who can play across the defence if needed, but hopefully we won’t be in a position where we’ll need to change the defensive line during the game. Mustapha Dumbuya continues to miss out and we’re monitoring his progress and we’re able to welcome Gary Fraser back into the squad.
Thistle travelled to Tynecastle for the third game of a long week looking to turn the re-arranged fixture, originally scheduled for February, into points. It was a daunting task facing Alan Archibald’s side with Hearts sitting comfortable in third place in the table, a significant distance from the chasing pack, but the side arrived in Gorgie in plenty of confidence having emerged victorious at McDiarmid Park on Wednesday night.
Manager Alan Archibald was clearly pleased with the side’s performance during the week as he elected to field an unchanged starting eleven for the game at Tynecastle. The only change to the squad was on the substitute’s bench where Gary Fraser replaced Kevin Nisbet.
Hearts started the half in brighter fashion forcing a succession of early corners, without forcing Tomas Cerny into a save of note in the opening ten minutes.
Thistle were having a very quiet showing in front of the goal during the opening spell until in 11 minutes Mathias Pogba forced a tremendous one handed save from Neil Alexander in the Hearts goal. Steven Lawless flighted a ball to the back post which was met by the Guinean striker. His header was tipped over by the goalkeeper, via an intervention by the cross bar. From the resulting corner, David Amoo was just unable to bundle the ball home from close range after Dan Seaborne’s initial header fell in his direction around six yards out.
Thistle were beginning to enjoy more action in the home sides half and Pogba combined with Lawless inside the penalty area, but the winger, with just Alexander to beat, was unable to find the target with his attempt. It was a chance Thistle would come to regret.
Juanma was a constant threat for Hearts in the first half and he had the ball in the net after 15 minutes, but play was pulled back for a shove on Lindsay.
It was an entertaining game, stretching from end to end and Ozturk had a free kick which spun off the Thistle wall and out from a corner kick. Rossi met the delivery, only for Cerny to instinctively tip over the crossbar. From the second corner however, the Thistle goal was breached.
Djoum climbed highest at the back post and fired a powerful header beyond the despairing dive of Hearts.
The game descended into a scrappy match with the sides exchanging possession on a regular basis as Thistle strove to get back into the game. It was Hearts, however, who had the best chance of the remainder of the first half. Ozturk picked out Don Cowie with a clever free kick. The midfielder swung a cross to the back post where it was met by Igor Rossi. Thankfully for Thistle, the defender nodded his header the wrong side of the post.
The half ended on a sour note from a Thistle perspective. Stuart Bannigan showed great heart and desire to close down the Hearts goalkeeper deep inside his penalty area. In the process of clearing the ball, Thistle’s number 8 slipped on the surface and collapsed in pain to the turf. Despite trying to get back on the pitch to help his side, Bannigan’s efforts proved to be in vain and the management team will be hoping he isn’t missing for too long.
The second half wasn’t as end to end as the first but Thistle acquitted themselves well as they looked to get an equaliser. Steven Lawless was showing the same form as he did on Wednesday night, running away from defenders before firing a shot which didn’t trouble Neil Alexander.
Thistle were proving comfortable in defence, nullifying the menace of Juanma and were creating the better opportunities in the early stages of the second half. Thistle were firing over crosses, but the physicality of the Hearts defence mopped up many of the loose balls in the deep areas of the pitch.
Sam Nicholson, a thorn in Thistle’s side in each of the previous two meetings, had an opportunity from a tight angle when he rounded Tomas Cerny. His chipped cut back could only find the grateful arms of the goalkeeper as he recovered.
Thistle did a lot of huffing and puffing in the closing stages but, in truth, struggled to test the home goalkeeper as Hearts saw out the game to ensure the three points stayed in Gorgie. While the result was the same as the previous games against the Edinburgh side, the performance was much improved on the previous two showings.
Thistle drop down a place in the table, down to 8th, ahead of Tuesday night’s game against Aberdeen at Firhill.
Despite suffering a narrow defeat in a tight game at Tynecastle, manager Alan Archibald was keen to highlight the positives from the performance when he spoke to ptfc.co.uk shortly after the game.
“There are a lot of positives to take from that game. The performance was the best we have produced against Hearts this season and I thought we were worthy of a point. It’s disappointing to be heading back without anything. Hearts managed to get the only goal of the game to show the tight margins that exist in Premiership football.
“The goal came from a set piece which is extra disappointing. We practice them during the week and we know what Hearts like to do. They won a lot of corners in the early stages of thegame and we had done well to cope against them. Tomas had just saved a good header from Rossi at the near post and Djoum has got in at the back post on the second one. Its small margins like that which decide games.”
There was a worrying sight for Thistle fans as Stuart Bannigan limped off in the very shadow of half time and we asked the gaffer how he was.
“It’s too early to tell. He’s gone to chase the goalkeeper down and as he has looked to slow, the ground has given way under his outstretched leg. We’ll have the players in tomorrow morning and we’ll assess him tomorrow. It’s disappointing to lose Stuart, he’s been the heartbeat of our side in recent weeks and we hope it’s not going to sideline him for too long.”
Despite the match at Tynecastle being the team’s third in seven days, there was no signs of fatigue throughout the side, something which pleased the manager.
“The players are incredibly fit, which is all credit to Junior Mendes and his sports science team. We didn’t really suffer from tiredness in what was a draining match. The performance was good and while we didn’t create as many clear cut chances as we would have liked, we were very solid defensively.
“We’ve used a few different players over the last few games, just to freshen it up and keep the side at its strongest for every match. The hard run isn’t over yet, we have another two games in the week ahead and we’ll continue to utilise our squad as best we can to get as many points as we can from what will be two very difficult games.”
Thistle drop down to 8th in the Ladbrokes Premiership but the gaffer isn’t getting too downbeat.
“We won on Wednesday night which didn’t guarantee us to finish top six. A defeat today doesn’t condemn us to the bottom six. The league is incredibly compact and we have six games to get as many points as we can and see where we end up.
“It’s disappointing to lose narrowly today, but what it has shown the players is that they can match the best in the league. We’ve conceded a goal from a set piece through a defensive mistake and there is plenty to be encouraged about. If we can take the same application and commitment into Tuesday night, along with a little bit more belief then there is no reason why we can’t pick up points, particularly at Firhill.”