Kris Jack at Tynecastle
Motherwell took a step closer to securing third in the SPL after a professional 1-0 win over Hearts at Tynecastle.
A typical poacher’s goal from top-scorer MICHAEL HIGDON was enough to push the Steelmen eight points clear of Dundee United in third, with 9 points to play for.
The Tannadice club travel to Ibrox tomorrow and a Rangers win or a draw would secure third place for the Steelmen and a crack at the coveted pinnacle of European club football – The UEFA Champions League.
After Saturday’s five star thrashing of St Johnstone, STUART McCALL opted to stick with the same starters for the journey to Edinburgh, with new dad CHRIS HUMPHREY charged with replicating his man of the match performance on the right and JAMIE MURPHY chosen to continue the good form that saw him bag a great clinching goal against the Saints. With no injury worries going in to the game, McCall had the strongest possible squad to select from.
Andrew Driver, Rudi Skácel and Craig Beattie all missed out on a starting berth from Hearts’ 2-2 draw with Dundee United at the weekend, with the latter picking up an injury that Paulo Sergio did not want to aggravate ahead of their Scottish Cup Final date with rivals Hibs. Mehdi Taouil, David Templeton and Stephen Elliott came in in their place.
The game began with neither team really imposing themselves, although Stephen Elliott was first to have a crack at goal after just two minutes when he robbed NICKY LAW at the edge of the box but he blazed over.
In response, Murphy was first to threaten for the visitors when he cut in past McGowan on the right but his bobbling shot was easily picked up by Jamie MacDonald.
Much like Saturday’s win, the ‘Well defence were happy to allow their opponents pot shots from distance. Darren Barr and Ian Black both had speculative cracks from outside the box but none troubled DARREN RANDOLPH in the visitor’s goal.
And although Hearts were probably seeing more of the ball, Motherwell looked threatening on the counter. Higdon managed his first glimpse of goal, after some tidy play on the left by Law allowed Murphy to tee up the big Scouse hitman, but his effort was too direct at the diving McDonald.
Murphy then had a chance to put his side in front when a through ball caught Žaliūkas and Webster out, but the young forward had his shot cleared off the line by Black, after rounding MacDonald.
Hearts’ best chance of the half came on 16 minutes when David Templeton managed to work some space in the box, only to have his shot blocked by SHAUN HUTCHINSON. The rebound fell to Mehdi Taouil, but he sclaffed his effort wide from 10 yards with TOM HATELEY narrowing the angle.
The game was beginning to be battled in the midfield and a great challenge in the centre circle by STEVE JENNINGS was the catalyst for Motherwell’s opener on 29 minutes. From the passage of play that Jennings’ tackle on Ian Black created, Law played Murphy in on the left. Leaving McGowan in his tracks, he curled an effort in on goal from the edge of the box, which MacDonald failed to deal with properly allowing Higdon to slam home for his 16th goal of the season.
Motherwell tails were up and veteran midfielder KEITH LASLEY almost made it 2-0 when he got in behind Webster to latch on to a Higdon flick but his effort was too tame to threaten the Hearts goal.
It was an ideal first half for ‘Well who soaked up all that Hearts had thrown at them, while managing to nick a crucial 1-0 lead going in to half time interval.
Paulo Sergio rang the changes at the start of the second half, introducing Rudi Skácel for the ineffectual Taouil. However, it took a while for former Czech International to make any sort of impact as Hearts looked to get back in to the game. Suso Santana came close to levelling on 55 minutes, when his bouncing volley from the edge of the box sailed just over Randolph’s bar.
Templeton was also beginning to prove a thorn in the ‘Well’s side and should have equalised when he was put clean through on Randolph, but he fluffed his lines thanks to a slight Hutchinson touch allowing Randolph to save with his feet.
A Skácel effort from distance and a Darren Barr header from a corner were the next threats to the Well goal, but neither caused more than a flutter of panic and relief in the Well defence.
The Steelemen were doing a great job of containing Hearts without attacking much but they could have snatched a second. STEVIE HAMMELL’S burst up the park was followed by intelligent play from Murphy on the left who played in Lasley whose first time shot was deflected just wide with McDonald scrambling across his line.
Hearts did think they were level Santana slammed the ball past Randolph and into the net. However, he had been rightly flagged offside and the goal was disallowed much to the joy of the travelling support.
Estonian HENRIK OJAMAA then replaced Murphy with 15 minutes left and his first touch sent Humphrey scampering down the right. With Nicky Law racing in, the Jamaican’s low cross came agonisingly close to reaching the former Rotherham man but for the outstretched glove of McDonald who made the save.
As time ran out, Hearts threw everything they could at a resolute and well-marshalled Motherwell defence, with TIM CLANCY and Man-of-the-Match Hutchinson making sure nothing got through. Skácel headed straight at Randolph from a deep Danny Grainger cross, before Templeton hit the side net from a tight angle with the last effort of the match.
Motherwell held on until the final whistle, and as the fans celebrated in the stand with the players lapping up the praise.
[tab:As it happened]
Alan Burrows at Tynecastle
93mins – FULL TIME – Hearts 0 – 1 Motherwell: GET IN!
92mins – Offftt! Templeton runs the channel and fires the ball into the side-netting. Surely that must be us now. Don’t think I can take any more.
90mins – 3mins left to play. This is horrible!
83mins – 7 minutes to go. Tense stuff here at Tynecastle, Hearts have a free-kick which Grainger is going to hit (right off Omar)
81mins – Omar Daley replaces Chris Humphrey. Humps put in a great shift going forward and back. Omar will have to match!
80mins – I have to say, the Motherwell fans inside Tynecastle tonight have been different class! So vocal all night long! Respect!
79mins – Long diagonal ball finds Skacel at the back post but his header from about eight yards out is grabbed by Randolph.
77mins – Henrik Ojamaa comes on for the Steelmen! He replaces Jamie Murphy up top!
75mins – Hearts are going to make those changes. Glen comes on for Elliott and Driver replaces Black as Hearts go for it!
72mins – OFFSIDE! Santana slams the ball into the net but the assistant has his flag up and it won’t count. Another let off…
71mins – Offftt!!! That was almost 2-0 Motherwell. Great break – Hammell to Murphy to Lasley. Shot deflected inches wide of the post.
69mins – Driver and Glen look as if they are going to be introduced for the home side…
64mins – Hearts putting on the pressure at the minute. Higdon is forced to concede a corner as the Jambos throw everything forward.
60mins – OH MY GOD! That was so close. Free-kick is flicked on by Barr but it drops just wide with Randolph at full stretch…
58mins – Skacel has a sight at goal but doesn’t quite connect and it drops wide. Wee bit of a let-off there. Still 1-0 to ‘Well at the mo.
56mins – Hearts have a great chance. Templeton gets the break and is clean in on goal. Randolph stands up well to make the block though.
55mins – Shot from Santana blasts way over the bar as Hearts look to bite back at Motherwell.
53mins – As I say that, Chris Humphrey has a cross-cum-shot well saved by MacDonald…
53mins – Nothing too much happening at the minute folks. Both teams trading possession but nothing overly exciting to report.
46mins – Hearts bring on a sub – Mehdi Taouil is off and is replaced by Rudi Skacel. No changes for ‘Well! Hearts to get us underway…
HALF TIME – Hearts 0 – 1 Motherwell (Higdon)
44mins – Another long-range effort from Hearts – this time from Barr – but it goes well wide of the post.
40mins – Shot from distance from Hateley (free-kick) flashes way wide!
37mins – Higdon tees up Lasley up for a shot that is comfortable for MacDonald to clutch. Still 1-0 Motherwell at the moment.
28mins – Shot from distance from Murphy is spilled by MacDonald. Higdon is there to slam home his 16th of the season!
GOALLLLLL – Michael Higdon!
26mins – Another shot from Ian Black – it once again flashes wide. Hearts having more of it at the moment but ‘Well look ok on the counter,
22mins – Murphy follows that with a quick break but fires a shot way off target!
21mins – Another good chance for Hearts. Templeton again causing problems – but Taouil flashes a loose ball wide.
19mins – Hearts claim for a penalty is turned down. Ian Black plays on and fires a low shot which Randolph catches low to his near post.
13mins – Really good chance for Higgy there. Nice ball across the face lands at the big man but his shot lacked power to beat MacDonald.
8mins – Barr has a shot from distance that zips just wide of the post. Good effort from the former Falkirk man…
3mins – Dig from distance from by Murphy but it is well held by MacDonald!
2mins – Elliott has an early shot for the home side but it curls wide and over! Still 0-0!
1min – Motherwell will kick-off – Murphy and Lasley to get us underway! C’mon the Steelmen!
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“We came at Christmas Eve and we didn’t turn up. We gave them too much possession, so tonight we had a go.
“Everyone put a shift in for the side and that’s what was needed. They have got individual players in the team that can hurt you. I thought we controlled them really well.
“We’re not there yet though. But for us to finish third, if we do, would be an outstanding achievement. To get Europe alone has been terrific, but hopefully if we can clinch that place and it does end up being Champions League, then it would be beyond any wildest dreams.”
Hearts manager Paulo Sergio:
“Jamie made a save, the only save of the game, and they had a second ball to score their goal.
“We defended poorly at that moment. We shouldn’t give the inside to Murphy, but we made that mistake and they scored a goal to get three points.
“We had two, three good chances in the first half and four in the second. Motherwell defended well but we had clear chances to score and we didn’t.”