PARTICK THISTLE failed to capitalise in a strong first-half performance against Hearts in their final pre-season friendly as Hearts returned to Edinburgh with a 2-0 win in the bag.

The two sides put on a treat of a spectacle in the first half and it was a minor miracle that the game was goalless at the interval before Robbie Neilson’s men raised their game in the second  and saw off their opponents without too much fuss.

Ian McCall rang the changes at Firhill with only James Penrice, Tam O’Ware and Shea Gordon retaining their spots from Wednesday’s 2-2 draw with Ayr United.

The Jags lined up in a 4-1-4-1 formation: Kieran Wright replaced Jamie Sneddon in goal; Ciaron McKenna and Penrice filled in the full-back slots with O’Ware and Rhys Breen in the middle; new signing Charlie Reilly and Gordon played as a two with Mouhamed ‘Sena’ Niang sitting behind them; Blair Lyons and Joe Cardle provided width on either flank; while Salim Kouider-Aissa led the line up front.

It was an energetic start to proceedings in Maryhill with both sides determined to play on the front foot as the ball zipped from one end of the park to the other.

The first clear-cut chance of the game fell to Craig Wighton, who skipped past O’Ware to bare down on goal but his powerful effort from a narrow angle was batted away by Wright without too much fuss.

Hearts pressed the hosts admirably during the game’s opening exchanges, harrying their opponents doggedly in the hope of forcing an error from the Thistle back line. There were one or two hairy moments early on but for the most part, they escaped unscathed.

Wright had a moment to forget with 15 minutes on the clock when he slipped when attempting to boot the ball upfield but Steven Naismith spared his blushes with a tame effort from out wide that the Thistle goalie calmly collected.

The Scotland internationalist almost opened the scoring again moments later, springing clear of the Thistle defence with a well-timed run but Wright kept him at bay once again.

There were concerned glances exchanged on the sideline when O’Ware went down clutching his leg minutes later. The defender was the last man and went to ground but that didn’t stop Wighton racing through on goal, only for the forward to contrive to hit the woodwork when afforded the freedom of Firhill.

Ryan Williamson was introduced from the bench to replace O’Ware, with McKenna moving inside to fill in at centre-half.

The substitute almost made an instant impact when his overlapping run was spotted by Cardle but his delivery into the box was over-hit and no one was there to meet it. Penrice collected the ball at the far post and leathered an ambitious half-volley towards goal but it ballooned harmlessly over the bar.

The visitors kept up the pressure and continued to enjoy the lion’s share of possession, with the Jags content to hit Hearts on the break at pace when they won the ball.

It was an approach that meant the home side were a constant threat so perhaps it was no surprise when Thistle won a penalty midway through the first half thanks to some tenacious play from Reilly.

He harried and harassed his opponent and robbed him of the ball before shifting it through to Lyons, who made a beeline towards goal only to be brought down in the area. Up stepped Kouider-Aissa but his spot-kick lacked direction and was batted high by Craig Gordon, who then caught the ball when it looked like it might just trickle over the line.

Breen had the ball in the net moments later but it would count for nothing after the linesman raised his flag for offside. Cardle’s delivery was headed on towards the back post from one of the men in maroon but the on-loan Rangers defender was adjudged to have been offside at the time of the initial delivery.

Wright was called into action once again to deny Wighton from a one-on-one but was left breathing a sigh of relief after Naismith’s follow-up effort from distance sailed harmlessly over the bar.

Reilly tested Gordon with a low effort after some excellent play from Lyons and the former Montrose man was unfortunate not to win his second penalty of the afternoon moments later when his foot was clipped by Mihail Popescu, only for the ref to wave play on.

There was no question that Thistle grew into the game as time wore on and had the upper hand but they failed to make the breakthough before the interval.

Neilson shuffled the deck at the break, with seven players introduced for the second half while McCall replaced Penrice with Andy Rodden.

Hearts again started strongly, attacking with purpose and with plenty of intent but lacking a little incision in the final third. Thistle, meanwhile, struggled to replicate the attacking swagger that was on show during the opening 45 minutes.

Sena, who spent last season on loan at Montrose, was arguably the standout performer for the Jags on the day. The ongoing battle in midfield between the youngster and Naismith was captivating and he did a fine job of stifling the Hearts talisman with a series of firm but fair challenges.

Zak Rudden was brought on for Gordon with half an hour to go as Thistle switched to a conventional 4-4-2 and within 60 seconds they found themselves behind.

Hearts surged through the middle of the park with a superb flowing move. Harry Cochrane slipped it into Liam Boyce, who in turn teed up Jamie Walker to curl the ball in at the far post from the edge of the area to hand Neilson’s men the advantage.

That goal reinforced the confidence of the men from the capital and, to their credit, they did not rest on their lead. The urgency in attack was still there as they pushed for a second while the Jags searched for a foothold to get back in the contest.

Michael Smith, who swapped flanks with Cameron Logan after the break, nearly pulled the game outwith Thistle’s grasp when he burst beyond the home side’s defence but drilled his shot just wide of the far post.

Then, with 15 minutes to go, Andy Irving sealed the win for Hearts. The ball fell to him at the edge of the dee and he curled a sublime shot in at the far post, giving Wright little chance of stopping it.

Dean Watson – who struck the woodwork right at the death – James Lyons and Bradley Renfrew were brought on for the final 10 for some game time and a taste of senior football but in truth, the game was all but over. The two sets of players largely went through the motions as the clock wound down before the referee called time on an entertaining contest.