42 Grounds: Ground 39: Firhill Stadium

I was looking forward to my trip to Firhill more than most places today. It wasn’t necessarily the appeal of the ground which attracted me, even if I’m a big fan, but the game I was going to see.

I haven’t always had the luxury of choice with games, as seeing all of the grounds in the timescale I hope to stick to doesn’t allow for that, however if I had been able to choose today, this game would have been high on the list.

After a comprehensive 3-1 defeat away to city rival’s Hibs in a Scottish Cup replay earlier in the week, the Jambos had a lot to prove.

Ian Cathro’s reign, after appearing to have picked up, has hit another rough patch. There are those that will always give him a hard time, as he’s not a ‘football person’. However, after Wednesday it seems patience is wearing thin even amongst some of those willing to give him a chance.

One would have to imagine that if choosing an opponent today, Cathro would not have plumped for a difficult away trip to Partick Thistle.

The Jags have been on a good run of form of late, having won twice in the last two weeks. They sat seventh in the league before kickoff today, although with just five points separating them from bottom placed Hamilton, they were still in need of points.

Alan Archibald has quietly gone about his business at Firhill, after replacing Jackie McNamara in 2013. He is the longest serving manager in the top flight for a reason. In the last three seasons, Thistle have finished comfortably above the relegation zone. In each of these seasons they have managed to beat their point total from the previous season.

Archibald has managed to put together a strong squad for this season. Kris Doolan continues to score goals, with a respectable tally of seven so far this season. Chris Erskine provides creativity, and the occasional moment of brilliance – on his day. Abdul Osman and Steven Lawless add effort and flair in midfield.

On paper at least, they have strength all over the park. They must be one of the few teams that I haven’t seen playing this season, and I must admit, I was excited to see exactly how they would play.

If I lived in Glasgow I would support Partick Thistle, I think. They have none of the poison associated with elements of the Rangers and Celtic supports, yet they can command a decent following thanks to their location.

The stereotype is that Thistle fans are a trendy, or ‘hip’ bunch.

If I was a Thistle supporter, in that alternate universe, I imagine I would have arrived at the game with a beard, and an in depth knowledge of craft beer.

Crucially, they offer a student ticket where neither Rangers nor Celtic do. With many students living nearby this could definitely help them to attract a few extra bodies on a Saturday.

As I arrived at the stadium, the most striking observation was, er, just how hard it was to observe. Walking in the direction of the stadium I could see several flats beside me and ahead. That was until I realised the flats ahead were actually the outside of the stadium.

It sits right in the middle of a residential area, and as it got busy before kickoff it was clear that congestion could be slightly problematic on a match day.

I liked it though. People filled the streets talking about the game and eating their pre match snacks, all within close proximity of each other due to the narrow street.

The old away stand is brilliant. Just the right level of ‘unwelcoming’ to give it a good amount of character. The ferocious barbed wire at either end would frighten even the bravest of potential fence jumpers. The old style ticket booths and turnstiles are like a living, breathing artefact from Scottish football history.

The two other stands are more modern, with ticket scanning machines working perfectly to get the small flows of home fans in to the stadium at various points. I sat in the Jack Husband Stand directly across from the old main stand.

My eye was instantly taken by the striking artwork on display in the corridor. Iconic moments from Partick Thistle’s recent history have been captured in photo form, and displayed in a ‘street art’ style. It adds colour to what is usually a dull area in grounds, and it celebrates achievement.

This is something that I’m sure most clubs linking up with a local college or university could replicate fairly easily. It might not be to everyone’s taste, but I liked it.

As kickoff approached the three stands began to fill up.

There is no stand behind one of the goals, with a grassy area instead. I don’t know if it’s too close to the houses to build a fourth stand there, or if they’ve just decided not to, but the three stands comfortably met today’s demand.

Both the home and away fans were in good voice as kick off approached. Atmosphere in the home end is fairly rare at grounds but the Thistle fans seemed intent on letting Alan Archibald know how fond they are of him, by regularly chanting his name.

The Jaggies got off to the best possible start when after just five minutes the ball landed at the feet of Kris Doolan after a defensive mistake. He was left with the easy job of beating the goalkeeper from around five yards out, and he made no mistake in placing it past Jack Hamilton.

He had the ball in the net again 20 minutes later, but it wasn’t given as he was offside. Even if it didn’t count, he once again gave a glimpse of how dangerous he could be.

He caused more of a threat in the first half than the entire Hearts side managed. They were toothless, and disappointing for a side with so much to improve.

One can only imagine what Cathro said to his players at half time after another poor performance. Regardless of what he did say, it didn’t seem to have much of an impact.

The second half started in a calm manner, but it burst in to life when Esmael Goncalves was sent off with a second yellow card given for a rash tackle. He could have no complaints, and he left his team with an extremely hard task to come back with ten men.

It proved too hard for the Jambos, and they fell further behind shortly after. Defender Liam Lindsay, who had looked calm and assured all day, produced a moment of technical brilliance, volleying the ball on the turn past the helpless Hamilton in the Hearts goal.

At that point in the game one might expect the side trailing 2-0 to dominate as they push for a consolation goal. That didn’t materialise. In fact it was the home side who came closer to extending their lead.

As Partick picked up a crucial three points, which allows them to look up the table rather than down, the home fans were jubilant at full time.

That was contrasted with the boos which rang out from the away end, as more and more people begin to question the new manager.

Partick Thistle have managed to put together a strong squad this season. Particularly going forward, Doolan and Erskine caused the Jambos all kinds of problems.

Firhill is not an easy place for teams to visit, and if they can give the same level of performance as today, there is no reason why Thistle can’t finish in the top half of the league.

Partick Thistle 2 Hearts 0

Attendance: 4143

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