A goal in each half sees Neilson’s Hearts over the line at Tynecastle

Robbie Neilson’s Hearts returned to Tynecastle this Saturday, running out as 2-0 winners over League One side, Partick Thistle in a friendly match. Jamie Mcintosh reports.

It’s been six long months since I walked through the turnstiles at a football ground and although there would be no fans at this match, it certainly didn’t make me any less excited for it.

Hearts got the game underway in the Edinburgh sunshine and immediately began to implement Robbie Neilson’s high press system. Hearts started with a really fast tempo and for the opening 15 minutes, Thistle really struggled to see any of the ball.

In possession, Olly Lee and Andy Irving dictated the play from the CDM role, with Jamie Brandon and Ben Garuccio playing as very high full backs. 

Jamie Walker looked energetic in the first 45 minutes and wingers Josh Ginnelly and Elliott Frear, who frequently switched flanks, were direct and showed no hesitation in delivering early balls into frontman Craig Wighton. 

The opening goal came for Hearts after just 10 minutes. Brandon and Frear combined well in a move up the right-hand side, before Brandon pulled it back towards Craig Wighton. Wighton appeared to leave the ball for the onrushing Walker to sweep the ball into the corner of the net. A really nice move from Hearts and with the first real chance of the match, the hosts had the opening goal.

Hearts were really dominating possession in the opening 15 minutes and the chances kept coming as Craig Halkett saw his back-post header saved by former Hearts youth goalie James Sneddon. Another well worked move up the right for Hearts, involving Brandon, saw Sneddon called into action again, this time to deny a Jamie Walker volley. 

Partick’s first chance came after a giveaway inside the Hearts half – Brian Graham picked up possession and drove at Michael Smith, before managing to get a shot away. However, it was straight at Hearts’ new goalkeeper Craig Gordon and the former Celtic man made the save.

By this point, Hearts were causing Thistle serious problems up the right-hand side. This time, it was Ginnelly who got to the by-line before pulling it back for Frear who came in off the left wing, but curled his effort just over the bar. 

It was a tough opening spell for Thistle and despite Ross Docherty’s best efforts to keep on the ball as much as possible, he really struggled to do so due to Hearts’ high intensity pressing play.

Despite this, Ian McCall’s side were slowly finding their way into the game. Graham again forced Gordon into action, as he parried a well struck effort from the former Hibs striker to safety. 

Ryan Williamson, who had a solid game at right back, created a half chance for Graham on the half hour mark, however Craig Halkett did enough to prevent his header from troubling Craig Gordon.

Partick were on top at this point and the high tempo that Hearts had started with had just faded a little, allowing the visitors to see a bit more of the ball.

Despite this, Hearts managed to lift the tempo again before the break and made sure they finished the half the better side. A rejuvenated Lee found the feet of Walker, who was impressing the small number of reporters in the stand. He sharply spun his man on the edge of the box and curled an effort just wide of the far post.

Some brilliant link up play between Wighton and Walker saw the latter sent through on goal, however from a tight angle, he could only hit the side netting. 

The final chance of the first half came for the hosts after a quick throw in from Brandon sent Wighton clear. He squared it for Ginnelly, but Sneddon came up with a huge save right on half time. Ginnelly really should have sent Hearts in with a 2-0 lead at the break but fair play to Sneddon, who produced a strong first half showing.

Summer signing Jordan Roberts and club captain Steven Naismith were introduced by manager Robbie Neilson at half time.

The second half struggled to live up to any real expectations.

As is so often the case with pre-season friendlies, both sides made changes at the break and throughout the second half, and it really disrupted the flow of the game. 

The substitute Roberts managed to flick a clearance on for Wighton and his pace got him to the ball before Richard Foster. He could’ve gone down under the challenge but stayed on his feet before firing a shot towards the near post, which Sneddon denied with his feet.

Another chance for Wighton arrived on the hour mark after he was picked out again by Roberts, however he couldn’t get a strong enough contact on the cross to trouble Sneddon.

Steven Naismith is certainly not a quiet player on the pitch, however he certainly didn’t have his busiest game in a maroon jersey. He tried his luck from distance midway through the 2nd half but fired off target.

Thistle had struggled to get into the 2nd half and Hearts, despite not being spectacular, were comfortable.

Hearts doubled their lead 65 minutes in. Craig Halkett stepped up and robbed Partick striker Salim Kouider-Aissa of possession. He then drove forward before sliding in Steven Naismith, who was forced wide by Sneddon. However, the veteran forward had the awareness to pick out Halkett who taps in the move he started. 

Thistle’s first chance of the 2nd half fell to Joe Cardle, however he dragged his volley harmlessly wide from the edge of the area. Shea Gordon was next to try his luck; his effort was deflected behind for a corner. In these eerily quiet stadiums, you can hear everything that’s being said, and Thistle manager Ian McCall was certainly not shy in sharing his opinion on Joe Cardle’s poor delivery from the resulting set piece.

Mouhammed Niang came on for Ross Docherty who struggled in the second half to see as much possession as he did in the first half.

Peter Haring was introduced for the remaining 20 minutes alongside Northern Ireland striker Liam Boyce.

The scoreline finished 2-0, a fair one on reflection and both managers should be able to take plenty of positives from the match. 

Robbie Neilson praised his team’s first half display however he wasn’t surprised when the tempo dipped in the second half, putting that down to a number of things including the absence of the supporters. 

“The fans at Tynecastle push you on, they demand…we were 2-0 up and there was a wee bit of flatness, so it has to come from us, from the coaching staff but also from within the players, to get 90 minutes of real quality.”

Hearts are due to begin their Betfred League Cup campaign at Tynecastle on the 6th October against Inverness. 

Partick Thistle manager Ian McCall said “I didn’t think we played particularly well; we did ok in stages. We tried a few things today and gave everybody a bit of game time. This is our first game back and you’ve got to remember Hearts have played a few more than us”. 

Partick Thistle are due to begin their Betfred Cup campaign with a trip to St Mirren on the 7th October.

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