A battle-weary Motherwell side fought bravely for a point at Tynecastle today which has secured their place in the top-six of the SPL.
With first-team players such as Francis Jeffers, Gavin Gunning, Stevie Hammell, Steve Jennings, Keith Lasley, John Sutton and Jamie Murphy all missing from the starting eleven, it looked a daunting prospect for the Steelmen against the league’s third best side.
However ‘Well, including 17-year old debutant Stuart Carswell, more than matched the Georgie side and twice came within inches of grabbing the lead but both Steven Saunders and Ross Forbes were denied by the woodwork.
It caps an incredible ten-day period for Stuart McCall’s men who now have a Cup Semi Final at Hampden to look forward to next weekend.
The Motherwell manager made three changes to the starting eleven that overcame Dundee Utd during the week. Lasley, Murphy and Sutton all dropped to the bench, replaced by Jones, Casagolda and debutant Stuart Carswell, who took his place in a three-man centre midfield partnership.
The home side, who looked to have third place in the SPL all but sewn up, started on the front foot and threw a couple of cross balls into the area and forced two corners in the opening exchanges, but nothing that would trouble ‘Well stopper Darren Randolph. In actual fact, it was the Steelmen who threatened first and could, and perhaps should, have taken the lead after just a few minutes.
Esteban Casagolda did well to close down a clearance, allowing the 34-year old Northern Irishman to collect just inside the area. Jinking past one challenge, the goal looked to be gaping but the winger fired over the bar from close range much to the relief of goalkeeper MacDonald.
Hearts’ reply was instant and Steven Elliot almost made himself the hero for the Jambos once again after netting the equaliser at Easter Road last weekend. Rudi Skacel won the ball on the left flank and wasted no time whipping an inviting cross towards the near post. Elliot met it but could only smash an effort way wide of goal.
If that was close, the Steelmen had Randolph to thank, again, for keeping the scores level three minutes later with yet another wonder stop. This time from Templeton, the winger blasted a stinging half-volley at goal after Hutchinson’s headed clearance. It looked to be heading for the bottom corner but for the outstretched hand of the Republic of Ireland International, the keeper managing to turn it away before it was eventually hooked clear.
After an end-to-end start, all the signs pointed to a cracking game. But, in truth, the remainder of the first half was poor with little or no goalmouth action. That was until Steven Saunders woke everyone up with a bouncing low effort which cannoned back off the right hand upright. The Scotland International collected on the edge of the area and drilled a decent effort – it whizzed past MacDonald but couldn’t beat the post; Hearts cleared the rebound and it was level at the break.
McCall introduced Steven Hammell in place of Saunders at the interval, the defender feeling his hamstring again after recently returning to the side from a two-week lay-off. However, it was the hosts who would again come out the traps on the front foot and the Steelmen once again had Randolph to thank for keeping things all-square.
The big keeper stood up excellently to block Templeton’s first effort from just inside the box after only two minutes gone in the half. What’s better, he was up quickly to save the rebound at the expense of a corner which was easily cleared by Hutchinson’s header.
Motherwell’s only sniff in the opening exchanges of the second period came when Tom Hateley danced round four challenges on route to goal. The former Reading man’s final touch was a little heavy though and the chance was gone. Six minutes later Motherwell were back inside the box and had a half-decent claim for a penalty when Steve Jones went over in the area. Referee Thomson was right up with play and pointed for a goal kick; on reflection he probably called it right.
Hearts boss Jim Jefferies introduced three subs on the hour mark but it was a starter, Rudi Skacel, who brought about the next chance, firing a stinging drive from distance that Randolph was glad to watch wide.
Motherwell introduced a sub as well; John Sutton brought on to replace Esteban Casagolda who put in a punishing shift up front on his own. And it was the fresh legs of Sutton who almost created the opener for his side, setting up Ross Forbes with a neat head flick. Midfielder Forbes collected and looped a dipping drive over MacDonald but his shot smashed the bar on the way over and the chance was gone.
The crucial moment came with just five minutes left on the clock when the quite brilliant Randolph produced another astonishing save to deny Craig Thomson. The defender’s free-kick came through a ruck of bodies and looked to be sneaking in at the near post but Randolph reacted quickly, somehow managing to throw down an arm to keep it out.
He got the rewards his save deserved when Maurice Ross was on hand to make an equally as important block when he deflected the rebound onto the outside of the post and Motherwell survived.
Indeed, the Claret and Amber men could have nicked it late on but chances for Ross Forbes and John Sutton weren’t converted and the game finished 0-0. With Inverness held to a 1-1 draw at Rugby Park, it confirmed Motherwell’s place in the top-six for the second successive season.
[tab:As it happened]
Graham Barnstaple at Tynecastle
93mins – Game over 0-0, another hard working performance, and its Darren Randolph’s 18th clean sheet of the season
90mins – Three minutes being added on, Tynecastle not as atmospheric as it was described at the satrt
87mins – Forbes shot whistles wide of the post, crowd announced as 13800
85mins – Craig Thomson’s free kick aimed at front post is saved brilliantly by the quick reactions of Randolph, and then scrambled clear
82mins – our first corner, but Hateley’s kick is cleared by head of Palazuelos
80mins – Murphy on forHumphrey, and is immediately fouled by Bouzid who is shown a yellow
77mins – Jason Thomson shown yellow for blatant body check on Humphrey knowing he couldn’t cope with his pace
75mins – Sutton head flick on to Forbes whose lob crashes off the cross bar and bounces over.
73mins – Well sub, John Sutton on for Esteban Casagolda
71mins – Skacel shot from 20 yards fizzes just past the post
61mins – 3 changes for Hearts, Black, Elliot and Tmpleton off and on come Suso, Robinson and Driver
60mins – half hearted penalty claim as Jason Thomson bundles over Steve Jones
54mins – solo run from Hateley, waltzes past four or five, but his touch is too heavy as he heads into box
46mins – a harsh early yellow for Maurice Ross, then double save by Randolph from Templeton at the near post
45mins – Half Time – 0 – 0!
43mins – Wow, that shot woke everyone up! Half hearted pen claim from ‘Well in there too but nothing doing at all.
43mins – Steven Saunders hits the post from distance. So unlucky from the young defender!
36mins – Ian Black’s shot from distance has the ‘Well fans in the Roseburn Stand diving for cover.
31mins – to back that up Templeton has just hit a shot 20 yards wide that we wouldn’t normally mention!
30mins – Our internet connection is solid, it’s just nothing much to report here at Tynie. Would not be too bothered if it stayed that way.
14mins – Darren Randolph pulls off another stunning save low to his right from Templeton, it looked as though it was heading in
11mins – First chance for Hearts with Stephen Elliot senidng a Skacel cross over the top.
9mins – Jones latches on to loose ball but lashes shot over from close range, good work by Casagolda in build up
7mins – Ian Black is down injured and getting treatment. Former ICT man looks in some pain…
1min – Game underway, with Well kicking off and hitting towards the Gorgie Rd end
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“All in all I’m so proud of them and delighted with them.
“I’ve got a really difficult job next week, not only to name the 11 but to name the 16 (against St Johnstone).”
Hearts manager Jim Jefferies:
“There was plenty of effort from the players but we just lacked in that final third either a break or that little bit of quality that would’ve created more chances.
“I think at the end of the day, it was a fair result.”