Gavin McCafferty at Tynecastle
John Sutton scored the only goal against Hearts to secure ‘Well’s sixth consecutive Premiership victory – their longest winning run in the top flight for 77 years.
The striker finished from a tight angle five minutes before the end of the first half to claim his 11th goal of the season – exactly the total he hit in two seasons at Tynecastle before leaving Georgie in the summer.
The last time Motherwell sealed a sixth consecutive win in Scotland’s top division they inflicted Celtic’s record defeat, an 8-0 win in the 1936-37 season, and they created enough chances to put this game out of sight before half-time.
But Hearts rallied against the odds in the final half hour to give the Motherwell goalkeeper Gunnar Nielsen some uncomfortable moments, and they were applauded off the park by the home crowd despite falling 20 points adrift following Ross County’s draw with Partick Thistle.
Hearts had Jamie Hamill back from suspension and filled their bench for only the second time in six games but there was little let-up for their stretched squad, with Callum Tapping joining Danny Wilson on the sidelines through illness.
Stuart McCall made two changes of his own. Faroese International Gunnar Nielsen returned between the sticks to replace Dan Twardzik who returned to Dundee after an emergency loan. The only other was to leave ‘new’ recruit Henri Anier on the bench at the expense of the on-form James McFadden.
They Hearts lifted their crowd with a couple of attacks in an end-to-end start but Jordan McGhee almost put through his own net in the third minute following McFadden’s low cross, with Jamie MacDonald diving to stop the ball on the line. McFadden soon set up another chance with a mazy run but Iain Vigurs shot weakly from 18 yards and MacDonald held.
Sutton headed over from 10 yards as Motherwell continued to attack at every opportunity, and they soon outnumbered Hearts by three to one on the break. McFadden’s pass found Lionel Ainsworth but Robinson got back to make a diving block and McFadden volleyed wide from Ainsworth’s follow-up cross.
The chances kept coming as Ainsworth robbed Kevin McHattie and rolled the ball across the penalty box but Vigurs miss-hit his effort. The on-loan winger then beat two men and struck a ferocious shot just over from 25 yards and was on target five minutes later with an equally powerful volley that MacDonald dived to push away.
Motherwell’s pressure told in another counterattack. Brad McKay misjudged Vigurs’ slide pass from his own half and Sutton ran on to beat MacDonald in the left channel. The angle was tight but Sutton managed to squeeze the ball between McGhee and McKay and just inside the far post.
McFadden and Ainsworth had time to fit in more first-half efforts and Motherwell had a good chance to double their lead just after the break when Vigurs’ brilliant first-time pass released Ainsworth but his touch allowed MacDonald to block.
McHattie, who had been struggling with a hamstring injury, came off for Jamie Walker, forcing a reshuffle at the back at the start of the second half.
But Hearts dug deep into their limited reserves and somehow found the ammunition to put Motherwell on the rack. They almost got level through Ryan Stevenson’s innocuous-looking cross, which bounced off the bar, before Nielsen palmed away David Smith’s long-range shot.
Hearts began to pepper him with shots from distance the former Man City stopper tipped over efforts from Stevenson and Walker, who saw another strike flash just wide.
Henri Anier, who signed a two-and-a-half-year contract on Friday, came on for the injured McFadden and had a shot saved on the break but Hearts kept up the pressure and Nielsen palmed away Paterson’s close-range header before the Hearts teenager had another cleared off the line.
Anier had a goal disallowed with five minutes left when Sutton was correctly penalised for an aerial challenge after MacDonald had palmed away his header.
But Hearts created the final chance when they worked the ball to Hamill eight yards out. The midfielder forced a shot towards goal but Nielsen blocked with his feet to secure all three points.
[tab:As it happened]
Ally Reilly at Tynecastle
FT: Hearts 0 – 1 Motherwell #HMFCvMFC
91mins: Hammell booked for what you’d call a tactical foul #HMFCvMFC
90mins: 3 minutes added on #HMFCvMFC
89mins: Glorious chance for Hamill but with only Nielsen to beat, takes his time and allowd the ‘Well defence in to clear #HMFCvMFC
86mins: Corner to ‘Well….Hutchinson heads over #HMFCvMFC
85mins: Anier has the ball in the net however the ref had ruled Sutton had fouled McGowan in the run up #HMFCvMFC
83mins: Motherwell sub, Vigurs off for Lawson #HMFCvMFC
80minns: Hearts sub, King on for Smith #HMFCvMFC
79mins: Hearts corner…..headed clear by McManus to Hamill who blazes over. #HMFCvMFC
76mins: Anier breaks away and cuts in on his left foot. Fires straight at MacDonald. #HMFCvMFC
73mins: ‘Well subs, Anier and Francis-Angol on for McFadden and Ainsworth. Hearts sub, Carrick off for Nicholson #HMFCvMFC
71mins: Hearts free-kick about 30 yards out on the angle…..Smith’s ball in sails straight out #HMFCvMFC
69mins: Hearts with some good pressure, Home fans right behind them too…. #HMFCvMFC
65mins: Stevenson stings the palms of Nielsen who takes no beats it wide for a corner #HMFCvMFC
57mins: Good curling effort from Smith, beaten away by Nielsen who takes no chances #HMFCvMFC
55mins: Stevenson’s cross somehow manages to curl and strike the bar! Close call #HMFCvMFC
53mins: Great chance for Ainsworth as he raced though 1 v 1. His final touch is too heavy and MacDonald can slide clear #HMFCvMFC
53mins: Hearts sub, McHattie off for Walker #HMFCvMFC
52mins: Corner to Hearts…..Smith’s delivery is headed clear by Sutton #HMFCvMFC
47mins: Corner to ‘Well……cleared by McKay who takes a sore one in the process #HMFCvMFC
Second half underway #HMFCvMFC
HT: Hearts 0 – 1 Motherwell #HMFCvMFC
44mins: Great wing work by Ainsworth then he drills a ball low across goal. Just needed a touch but no takers #HMFCvMFC
39mins: A stunning through ball from Vigurs to SUTTON who beats MacDonald to it and slots home from a tight angle! 0-1 #HMFCvMFC
33mins: Great save from MacDonald to deny Ainsworth. His half-volley was heading into the bottom corner #HMFCvMFC
28mins: Ainsworth’s powerful effort with his left foot from 20 yards flies just inches over! #HMFCvMFC
26mins: Ainwworth robs McGowan on the wing and picks out Vigurs whose shot on goal is blocked. Good chance #HMFCvMFC
24mins: Chance of the game so far falls to Ainsworth! McFadden put him through with only MacDonald to beat but Hamill gets back to block!
22mins: Bit of a lull in terms of chances. Hearts do look dangerous, though. #HMFCvMFC
14mins: Free-kick to ‘Well about 30 yards out. Looks too far for a shot on goal…..Faddy tries, but well over #HMFCvMFC
10mins: Up the other end Vigurs has time and space on the edge of the box but can only shoot straight at MacDonald #HMFCvMFC
9mins: Decen build up play from Hearts to create some space for McHattie whose cross is straight at Nielsen #HMFCvMFC
…Vigurs drills it into the wall #HMFCvMFC
7mins: McFadden wins a free-kick 25 yards out….good position #HMFCvMFC
3mins: Entertaining start! McGhee very nearly slides the ball past his own goalie from McFadden’s cross #HMFCvMFC
20seconds in and Hamill is down injured already. Looks like he’s struggling #HMFCvMFC
Underway here at Tynecastle #HMFCvMFC
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“I thought we played some really good stuff in the first half.
“We could have gone in a wee bit more ahead. We’re really pleased with the way we moved it.
“It’s important to try to get the first goal against a young side.
“But, in fairness to Hearts, the young boys’ second half was a really spirited performance.
“I think we merited it over the 90 minutes but certainly the gave us a few frights in the second half.”
Hearts manager Gary Locke:
“I just hope one week we can get a bit of the luck we deserve at the moment.
“I think, after last week, we were maybe getting questioned about one or two things but today, we showed commitment to the cause, and we need a bit of luck to go along with the effort we’re putting in.”
“You can never give up, you saw that in our performance today. It’s obviously going to be very difficult, but the boys are giving us everything and that’s all we can ask for.”