DESPITE scoring four goals at Firhill, Hearts’ relegation to the Championship was confirmed by St Mirren’s 3-2 victory over Motherwell.
The Edinburgh club produced one of their best goalscoring displays of the season but had their fate decided for them by two late goals in Paisley which confirm their exit from the Scottish Premiership.
Kris Doolan scored first before Hearts mounted a stunning recovery with goals from Dale Carrick and Billy King plus two from Ryan Stevenson. Jordan McMillan reduced the deficit late on before confirmation of St Mirren’s victory arrived.
The travelling fans sang “we’ll be back” as the final whistle neared and were applauded by the visiting players before they left the field. They had expected relegation for some time but underwent a whole range of emotions throughout the afternoon before the matter was finalised.
Hearts began this match knowing they had to win and hope St Mirren lost to maintain their Premiership status. They were captained by Jamie Hamill with Danny Wilson suspended, and it was not long before defensive frailties became obvious in the centre-back’s absence.
Aaron Taylor-Sinclair’s loping ball through the middle was misjudged by Brad McKay and Dylan McGowan, allowing Doolan to sprint in behind the static Hearts back four. He dispatched a lethal finish beyond Jamie MacDonald to open the scoring after only five minutes.
Lyle Taylor missed a fine scoring opportunity ten minutes later after being sent through on goal by Kallum Higginbotham. MacDonald held a volley from Doolan after a neat passing exchange by Thistle in the final third. Their use of the ball was more cohesive than Hearts’, ensuring they had a firm grip midfield and were much more creative.
A change of formation by the Hearts manager Gary Locke allowed his team to get a foothold in proceedings midway through the first half. He switched from 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-2, with Carrick and Stevenson paired together in attack. It made quite a difference.
Hearts first tested Thistle goalkeeper Paul Gallacher in the 34th minute via Scott Robinson’s header from Kevin McHattie’s corner. The ball was destined for the net until Gallacher clawed it away. Moments later, King sprinted on to Carrick’s through ball but only to drag his shot wide of goal.
This was undoubtedly the visitors’ best spell so far, underlined by King’s rasping left-footed drive which Gallacher beat away. An equaliser looked likely and it arrived as half-time approached. King executed a stepover and left-footed cross almost on the byline which Carrick headed downwards into the net from close range.
Hearts’ momentum continued after the restart as they moved 2-1 ahead. From Stevenson’s chested knockdown, King teed himself up for a venomous right-footed drive high into the top corner of the net.
Stevenson’s glancing header from King’s corner put Hearts 3-1 ahead on 61 minutes and granted them a vital cushion in their attempts to take three points. Since the change of formation in the first half, they had been far more assertive and clinical in front of goal.
They scored again six minutes later. Robinson scampered down the right flank and delivered a low cross to Stevenson. Poised with back to goal, he took a touch and spun to place a perfect left-footed finish low into Gallacher’s right corner.
With St Mirren 2-1 down at home to Motherwell, Hearts’ hopes of staving off relegation for the third time in a week looked good at that stage. Thistle did reduce the deficit through McMillan’s low finish in the dying minutes, but late goals by Kenny McLean and Steven Thompson in Paisley consigned Hearts to the Championship.
Partick Thistle: (4-4-2): Gallacher; McMillan, Mair, Piccolo, Taylor-Sinclair; Erskine (Lawless 66), Fraser (Craigen 76), Bannigcan, Higginbotham (Buaben 54); Taylor, Doolan. Subs: Fox, O’Donnell, Elliott, Moncur.
Hearts (4-2-3-1): MacDonald; Paterson, McKay, McGowan, McHattie; Robinson (Smith 70), Hamill; Stevenson, Holt, King (Oliver 85); Carrick (Nicholson 74). Subs: Ridgers, Beith, McGhee, Walker.
Referee: Stephen Finnie.