Motherwell remain unbeaten at Tynecastle this season after a monumental second-half comeback against Hearts in Gorgie.
The game looked to be over for the Steelmen as Hearts raced to a 3-0 lead in the first 50 minutes, thanks to a penalty from Craig Thomson, a Rudi Skácel strike and a powerful Ryan Stevenson header.
Yet Stuart McCall’s cup finalists would not be beaten, and pulled two goals back in quick succession, through John Sutton and Tom Hateley.
And a remarkable afternoon in the Capital was completed as John Sutton stooped to head home his 17th goal of the season, and rescue a remarkable point.
The hosts, on a run of just one win in seven matches, made two changes from the side which drew against Inverness Caledonian Thistle the previous week, with Eggert Jonsson coming into the team in the place of Andrew Driver and Marian Kello replacing Jamie MacDonald. Once again the PFA Player of the Year nominee David Templeton had to be content with a place on the bench.
Motherwell re-jigged their team from the previous week’s demolition of St Johnstone, with Gavin Gunning, Stevie Saunders and Steve Jones coming in for Stevie Hammell, Chris Humphrey and Steve Jennings, the latter two ruled out through injury.
A low-key opening in the torrential Gorgie rain was enlivened after twenty minutes as a sharp Rudi Skácel header was saved by the sprawling Darren Randolph. That was immediately followed by a Craig Thomson free-kick, which swept inches over the ‘Well cross-bar.
And Hearts managed to turn that pressure into a lead just before the half-hour mark. Willie Collum adjudged Stevie Saunders to have fouled Ryan Stevenson in the box, despite the contact looking fairly minimal in the area.
Craig Thomson stepped up and sent Darren Randolph the wrong way to give the Jambos the lead.
Jim Jefferies’ side, without a win in three meetings at Tynecastle against Motherwell, took confidence from that opener and doubled their lead before half-time, with Rudi Skácel firing high past Darren Randolph. While the first goal was seeped in controversy, the second was superb, coming after a slick one-two with Stephen Elliott.
Motherwell regrouped admirably, and could easily have pulled a goal back in a promising close to the half. Firstly Steven Saunders point-blank header was saved by the returning Marian Kello, before Jamie Murphy was slipped through on goal at an angle, only to see his shot saved.
The pattern was set for a pulsating second half when, just eight minutes in to it, a goal was put on the board. It went the way of Hearts, as Suso Santana’s cross was headed home firmly by the arriving Ryan Stevenson.
That came moments after Stevenson had struck a low shot from a tight angle – which struck the inside of one post, rolled along the goal-line, and hit the other post before bouncing out. So, perhaps some deserved luck for the former Ayr man.
If the game was dead and buried at 3-0, then someone forgot to tell the Steelmen.
Moments after Hearts fired in their third goal Motherwell pulled a goal back, with a well-worked headed goal of their own. Steve Jones danced brilliantly into the box, and hung a stunning cross to the back post where John Sutton nodded home.
And a matter of minutes later Tom Hateley made it 3-2, as his whipped in-swinging delivery evaded everyone and crept past Kello at the far post.
Both sides exchanged excellent efforts as a pulsating clash raged from end to end. Ian Black lashed a shot inches over the bar while Steve Jones came a matter of centimetres away from levelling the scores, striking the foot of the post with a sharp low drive.
You sensed there was still a twist in this extraordinary tale, and it was delivered, with 88 minutes on the clock, by the in-form, in-demand John Sutton.
The big Englishman’s movement inside the penalty area was phenomenal as he darted to the near post to flick on a Gavin Gunning cross. The header was delicate and accurate, and found the far corner, sending the travelling Motherwell fans wild.
It capped an incredible afternoon at Tynecastle, Stuart McCall heading back across the M8 the happier of the two managers.
[tab:As it happened]
Graham Barnstaple at Tynecastle
Full time: 3-3; what a comeback, another performance of great character and spirit when the game looked lost.
90mins – Three minutes being added on, time for a fourth!?
89mins – GOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL – 3-3, an amazing comeback, Gunning’s cross to the front post is flicked past Kello by head of Sutton, is it a hat trick?
87mins – The sun has finally came out with three minutes left!
83mins – Hateley releases Jeffers whos blasts wide with only the keeper to beat, we should be level with the chances we’ve made.
82mins – Another Hearts change Skacel off Driver on.
73mins – Jones sees a shot beat the keeper but bounce clear off the post.
70mins – Hearts make another change, Suso off (and taking about five minutes to do it) and Templeton on.
65mins – Kello has just made two great saves from long range shots from Hateley and Jeffers, a completely different game now!!
60mins – GOAL! 3-2, Hateley free kick from wide on the left either goes straight in or takes a flick from Sutton, but no matter we are back in it!!
58mins – crowd is 13039, not bad considering the weather.
57 mins – Maurice Ross on for Steven Saunders.
55mins – GOAL – 3-1, great run from Jones down right, picks out Sutton to head in his 16th of the season from close range.
53mins – GOAL – 3-0, Suso cross from right picks out the unmarked Stevenson to power a header past Randolph from about 6 yards out.
49mins – Big escape, Stevenson turns Craigan on bye line, and his shot from a tight angle hits both posts and somehow comes out.
48mins – Booking for Suso Santana for a hack on Gunning.
46mins – Second half underway, Hearts have brought on Mrowiec for Webster – no changes for Well.
Interval: Lovely Royal Wedding cup cakes in the press room at half time.
Half time: 2-0 Hearts bit better towards the end of the half…..
43mins – Hateley to Murphy whose shot at the front post saved at front post by Kello.
41mins – Our best chance, a Saunders header looks as though it was going in but Kello somehow managed to claw the ball out.
36mins – GOAL – Hearts, Skacel plays a one two at the edge of the box before firing a shot high past Randolph from 10 yards out to make it 2-0.
31mins – After giving a goal kick when Bouzid heads out Hearts break and Stevenson hits the post with a 20-yard shot.
25mins – That’s six penalties Willie Collum has awarded in his last two and a bit games now, two to Celtic, three for Rangers and this one.
25mins – If you are going to give penalties for this sort of thing we’ll end up with loads of pens a game, also a soft booking for Saunders.
25mins – GOAL – Pen for Hearts jostling in the box, Saunders push on someone and Craig Thomson blasts home leaving Randolph no chance.
21mins – a ridiculous booking for Murphy, he miss-hits a clearance and the ball spun up and hit his arm – a foul but not deliberate.
20mins – Brilliant save from Randolph to turn a header from Skacel over the bar from close range.
11mins – Ian Black is flat out after taking a Tom Hateley free kick square in the face, but it looks as though he will be okay to carry on.
8mins – we’ve forced 2 early corners but no real danger from either of them.
1mins – Hearts kick off and the crowd are asked to make some noise as always here.
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“That’s what they’ve shown in the last month, they’ve backed each other up, they’ve gone to the last minute.
“Fair play to both sets of players, they’ve played a great game. It could’ve been 6-6.
“They hit the post, we hit the post, there were chances galore, really good entertaining attacking football and it was a great, great advert for Scottish football.
“Some of our play was outstanding, so was Hearts’.”
Hearts manager Jim Jefferies:
“Credit to them, they came back and got a draw; It was a fantastic game for the neutral but a sore one for us to take.
“We played so well and we were in a winning position and we’re a bit gutted that we didn’t hold on. A penalty by Craig Thomson, a strike by Rudi Skacel and a header by Ryan Stevenson put Hearts in command, but John Sutton’s double, which sandwiched a Tom Hateley goal, levelled the scores.
“At three-nil, we were playing really well. Everything was fine and then we felt the referee gave a shocking decision against Stephen Elliott, just inside his own half. From the resulting free-kick, it cost us a goal.
“The second wasn’t defended well. We should have enough bodies there to go and meet it and put it away and clear it.
“And the third one’s worse because they’ve got a great cross in from their point of view, we know Sutton’s very good at getting in front of people, he had more determination than we have defensively to go and meet the ball and we should’ve put it in Row Z.
“I am gutted really because it feels like a defeat. There’s a lot to be pleased about the performance. I thought we were really good up until when the second goal went in.”