The Hearts continue to sink.
If they plunge any lower they'll be playing on Atlantis. The first home game of the new year brought the same old despair. Looking at the records of both sides prior to kick-off was about as uplifting as reading a variety of crumbling gravestones but at least Partick Thistle have now breathed a bit of life into their stuttering campaign with this deserved victory at Tynecastle.
The visitors had recorded just one win in their last 16 games, a record identical to that of the hosts. More than 13,000 turned up to keep Hearts beating but they watched their financially stricken favourites take another beating. Marooned at the foot of the table on minus two points, those teams above them are now disappearing so far into the distance you almost need an industrial-sized telescope to spot them. Thistle are now 20 points clear of Hearts, while Ross County dropped back to second bottom but still have a comfortable 19-point cushion to play with. For the battered Hearts, time is running out on their mission impossible and a timorous first-half display, during which they conceded a brace of highly preventable goals, proved to be their undoing.
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"We were not at the races in the first half," said Gary Locke, the Hearts manager. "We have got to keep working hard and that was the disappointing thing for me today; we can't just turn up for 45 minutes. We have to do better. It doesn't matter if it is a young team, I can't use that as an excuse.
"This was a big game and the two goals were a disaster. Our position now is extremely difficult. We just have to keep going, there's nothing else we can do. It's a massive ask and the mountain has just got bigger."
In the fraught initial stages, a Ryan Stevenson lunge at close range almost brought an early breakthrough for the hosts but the visitors were seeing plenty of the ball amid the initial huffing and puffing, and they flung in a number of crosses and corners as they strove to gain the upper hand. The problem was that none of these came close to finding a red and yellow shirt. With the Hearts rearguard shakier than a crockery set during an earth tremor, however, there was always potential for an opening as the home defenders swiped and sclaffed with a series of unconvincing clearances. It was perhaps no surprise, then, that the back line was breached in relatively simple circumstances on 13 minutes.
A hopeful punt up the pitch from Gabriel Piccolo was nodded on by Kallum Higginbotham and Lyle Taylor shrugged off the attentions of Dylan McGowan before squeezing a finish past Jamie MacDonald. The Hearts response was immediate and really should have brought more of a reward. Jamie Walker found space in the box but he dallied instead of having a pop and Stephen O'Donnell slid in with a timely intervention.
Given their general lack of invention, Hearts could ill afford to pass up such opportunities. Stevenson had a lash from the edge of the area which drifted wide, while Brad McKay flicked a header narrowly over the crossbar as half-time loomed, but the crippling defensive frailties cost the home side dearly again in the 40th minute. From Higginbotham's corner, Aaron Taylor-Sinclair, roaming about the box in seemingly care-free isolation, waltzed unhindered towards the curling ball and glanced a free header past MacDonald. Taylor-Sinclair would have faced more robust challenges attempting to take a poke of soor plooms from a bairn in a pram and the clatter of Locke's boot on the side of the dug-out spoke volumes for his frustration at the loss of such a straightforward goal.
There was not much to lighten the mood after the resumption. Indeed, the lively Taylor almost heaped on more doom and gloom with a powerful shot from a tight angle which MacDonald had to beat away.
The Partick Thistle defence has endured a fairly torrid time of late -Motherwell stuck five past them last weekend - but they faced little menace from a Hearts side which showed little of the resilience and drive demonstrated during the barnstorming Edinburgh derby defeat by Hibernian on Thursday. When they did muster a threat, fortune smiled on the visitors. On the hour, Callum Tapping unleashed a drive from 20 yards which took a wicked deflection and rattled back off the crossbar.
Hearts enjoyed plenty of possession but could not raise the alarm in a well-marshalled Thistle defence. The only time there was a red alert was when referee Iain Brines gave Stuart Bannigan a red card. The midfielder, who had already been booked, was issued with his marching orders with 10 minutes remaining after hurtling into Kevin McHattie on the halfway line. It had little impact, and Thistle coasted over the finishing line.
"This was vital" said Alan Archibald, the Partick Thistle manager, with a sigh of relief. "We've not had a win in such a long time; I think it was 10 games ago. We ground it out today and that was something we've not done all season. We battled our corner very well."
Hearts, meanwhile, continue to fight a losing battle.