Saturday 23rd September, 2017 at 8:18pm
Following their extra-time Betfred Cup elimination at the hands of Rangers on Tuesday night, Partick Thistle returned to league action with a meeting with Hearts at the Energy Check Stadium at Firhill. After six games, they remained winless in the Ladbrokes Premiership but came into the game two league matches unbeaten after successive draws with Ross County and then Rangers.
The visitors came into the match after a change in manager had brought them better fortunes. Craig Levein took over at Tynecastle at the end of August and in the two matches since his appointment, the Jambos had drawn with Aberdeen and scored a victory over Hamilton.
Thistle started with Ryan Scully in goals as Tomas Cerny remained absent with a stomach muscle injury. Alan Archibald stuck with the three centre-half set-up as Niall Keown, Daniel Devine and Jordan Turnbull retained their places in the starting line-up. Christie Elliott and Paul McGinn were the wing-backs while Adam Barton and Ryan Edwards started in central midfield. The team began the match with a somewhat unfamiliar front line formation. Miles Storey and Kris Doolan started up front in a two while Blair Spittal sat in the number ten role as Chris Erskine served out the second and final game of his suspension.
It was the hosts who created the first chance of the game when Blair Spittal went close in the sixth minute. Spittal gathered the ball and advanced forward with it. He ignored the option of Miles Storey to his right and shot for goal himself. He dragged his effort wide of the far post, however and the danger ended.
It was Blair Spittal at the centre of things again in the 18th minute but this time he made more of his opportunity as he netted the opener. Spittal picked up the ball on the Thistle right and shifted past his marker. He then used a drop of the shoulder to evade Aaron Hughes before shooting on goal. His effort was straight at the ‘keeper but Jon McLaughlin made a mess of the save and let the shot through his legs as the Jags took the lead.
The game then went through a period where only half-chances were had. Blair Spittal and John Souttar both saw long-range efforts fly over the bar and Paul McGinn went close with a cross-come-shot that had to be saved at the near post by Jon McLaughlin. Niall Keown saw a header miss by a few yards before Adam Barton had a clear-cut chance in the 43rd minute.
With two minutes left until the break, Miles Storey saw his cross deflect into the box. That deflection allowed Adam Barton to get to the delivery. He touched it over the ‘keeper but the ball was cleared off the line by a covering Hearts defender. The ball then fell to Blair Spittal in the box but the number seven miscued his volley allowing the Jambos to clear the ball.
Things went into the break at 1-0. Thistle had been on top for much of the opening 45, creating much more than their Edinburgh-based adversaries. Most of the play had come through Blair Spittal and Miles Storey who was adapting well to a front two. However, when you don’t score more while you’re on top there is always a chance that you’ll be made to rue those missed opportunities.
The second period started slowly with both teams struggling to pass their way into the opposition box and the first real action of the half was an injury that forced Christie Elliott off the pitch. He clashed with John Souttar in the air but landed awkwardly on his way down and was forced off the pitch, being replaced by Milan Nitriansky.
Hearts began to turn up the pressure around the 70-minute mark when a long-range Connor Randall shot had to be tipped over the bar by Ryan Scully. The distanced effort gave the away side the confidence boost they were looking for heading into the latter stages of the game.
As the match reached the last 15 minutes, Stuart Bannigan replaced Kris Doolan to inject some life into the Thistle midfield.
Unfortunately for Alan Archibald, despite his change, Hearts found their equaliser. The Jags were caught out by a quick corner and Manuel Milinkovic found Ross Callachan with a cross to the near post. Callachan then lifted his header over Ryan Scully towards the far post. Daniel Devine was there and headed the ball away however, the match officials judged that the ball had crossed the line and gave the goal.
After the Hearts leveller, the Jags almost retook the lead just five minutes later. Paul McGinn’s low cross found Miles Storey. The ex-Inverness striker turned the ball goalward, finding the target. His effort was blocked by the goalkeeper, Jon McLaughlin. The ball then came to Stuart Bannigan but his attempt was blocked.
The Jags made one last roll of the dice when Miles Storey was withdrawn and Kevin Nisbet was introduced up-front. However, there was nothing doing and the game finished 1-1. The Jags picked up their third point of the season but it will undoubtedly feel like they should have had three this afternoon. There was some good play on the Thistle side but ultimately, they were made to regret not putting the game to bed as they conceded another costly goal in the last 15 minutes of the game.
Thistle now look towards next Saturday’s clash with Motherwell at Fir Park. The Maryhill men travel to take on the ‘Well as they continue to look for their first league win of the season. Kick-off is at 15:00.
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