For 85 minutes, there was no place like home. Then Kris Doolan gatecrashed through the front door and ran off laughing. Hearts’ Tynecastle Park homecoming didn’t quite go to plan as Doolan’s late equaliser for Partick Thistle denied the hosts three much-needed points.
Owner Ann Budge, her staff and building contractors had worked tirelessly all week to ensure this game went ahead in front of the new main stand in Gorgie. City of Edinburgh Council only signed off its safety certificate on Saturday night, and for most of the afternoon Hearts looked to have done enough to win.
Esmael Goncalves’ 53rd-minute opening goal was a moment of class as he skilfully evaded defenders before angling the ball into the corner of the net. Yet, for the third time in the last four games against Hearts, Doolan found the net.
It was Thistle’s only shot on target, came five minutes from the end, and left Hearts claiming both offside and handball. Pretty galling all round on a day when those in maroon believed they would return to winning form.
“It was a tough game but they had one shot on target, it’s a handball and the guy who challenged for the ball starts offside. He’s clearly offside. I don’t know how the linesman didn’t give it,” said the Tynecastle captain Christophe Berra. He felt one Partick player was offside and then a hand used to nudge a loose ball into Doolan’s path following Blair Spittal’s free-kick.
“It’s bitterly disappointing. You limit a team that usually create chances and play football to one scruffy goal. Three of us said it was handball, although it was difficult for the referee to see it because of all the bodies. That’s football sometimes, you have to take it on the chin and move on.”
Berra was nonetheless relieved simply to be back in familiar surroundings. After four games at BT Murrayfield, having Tynecastle ready was a godsend.
“The facilities will be a lot better than you’ve been used to at Tynecastle,” said Berra. “It makes the atmosphere better and when we get firing on all guns on the pitch, it’s going to be some place. I’ll miss the old stand and the history. People were brought up with it and I made my debut in front of it, but times move on. This is the future. We weren’t always certain to stay here, but we definitely are now.”
If the truth be told, this game was hardly a spectacle to behold. It lacked intensity at times and quality was also low on supply. That said, the young full-back Jamie Brandon delivered his most assured display in maroon so far. He got forward from right-back frequently and distributed the ball well, whilst also defending solidly when required.
Hearts fans left frustrated and a few jeered a full-time. With five more consecutive home games to come, Berra issued a warning to his colleagues. “Tynecastle can be hostile. When you’re winning, it’s great. When you’re not, it’s like any club. The fans aren’t going to be happy. Hearts have got expectations and the fans have got expectations. They have every right to have those and you’ve just got to deal with it. You have to be a certain type of player.
“It’s going to put pressure on us being at home. Hearts are one of the top four clubs in the country and the fans expect you to win. We’ve been chopping and changing but it’s good to have players back. Arnaud Djoum made a difference, and David Milinkovic in the first half.
“Opposition teams will have a different mentality here. They’ll sit in and soak it up. We were on the front foot against Partick in the first half but didn’t create many chances. The proof will be in the pudding regarding how many points we get. At the moment, we’re not the team we were ten years ago. That comes down to finances.
“It’s the same with all the teams – Rangers, Aberdeen, Dundee etc. Finances aren’t there so people go down south now. We still have some really good players, international players, so it’s up to us to put performances in on the pitch.”
The delay which rumbled on all week prompted Thistle to release a pre-match statement criticising Hearts and calling for a review by the Scottish Professional Football League. Berra pointed out the delay affected him and his team-mates as much as anyone as half of Edinburgh held its breath awaiting that safety certificate.
“Everyone was wondering whether it was going to be on. It was the same for both teams and both sets of supporters. Luckily enough the game was on,” said Berra.
“Players will get used to the surroundings. It’s been difficult with 13 or 14 away games. Murrayfield is technically away. There was a different atmosphere at Tynecastle yesterday, even in the build-up. You just have to grind it out and we’ve done that.
“We’ve got 16 points on the board and it’s up to us to take advantage with a run of home games now. We’ve got the right management and the right players in place.”