A frustrating night ended in defeat for Motherwell U20s who went down 0-1 to an experienced Hearts this evening.
The Steelmen controlled much of the match but let themselves down by poor final balls and were frustrated with numerous blocked shots by a resolute and stubborn Jambos rearguard.
In the end, it was a Robbie Muirhead goal eight minutes before the half-time interval that separated the sides at a bitterly cold Excelsior Stadium.
The Steelmen named a young side with the only over-agers being 20-year olds Dom Thomas and David Ferguson.
Hearts on the other hand were able to name five over-age players, including well-known names such as Alim Öztürk, Juwon Oshaniwa and the aforementioned Muirhead.
Despite the gulf in experience, it was the young Claret and Amber men who started the game bright with a Thomas free-kick sailing over after just three minutes before the same player had a positive run and shot saved by Swedish International cap Viktor Noring.
A minute later and ‘Well would have an even better chance to score when they were awarded a penalty. A corner from Jake Hastie flew towards the back post and when Leon Jones wrestled David Ferguson to the ground, referee Garry Doherty pointed to the spot. Dylan Mackin stepped up only for Noring to comfortably save and hold his nonchalant effort.
Thomas had another shot from distance comfortably saved by Noring before Hearts registered their first effort when Öztürk’s long, searching pass found Oshaniwa who turned inside Watt before striking a low shot that was well held by young debutant Jordan Pettigrew.
Noring made another two saves from distance, one from Thomas that was comfortably plucked out the air, the other from Mackin whose bouncing effort was a little more difficult to handle, but the former Trelleborgs and Heerenveen stopper was again up to the task.
Hearts started to settle into the game and Muirhead, booked moments before for petulance, fired a warning shot across that bow with an effort that forced Pettigrew to stop.
It was a warning the Fir Parkers failed to heed as with their next attack five minutes later, the Jambos pinched the game’s only goal. A long, hopeful looking punt up the park from Öztürk had Muirhead in behind the ‘Well defence. The big striker kept his composure to comfortably tuck a shot under the outrushing Pettigrew and into the back of the net.
Incredibly, from being second best for most of the half, Hearts almost doubled their advantage seconds later. Again it was Muirhead, again it came from a direct ball, but this time the former Killie man was denied by a magnificent finger-tip save from Pettigrew, who turned his curling shot onto the post before bouncing clear.
Despite the setback, half-time would allow Craigan to try and regroup and they came out the traps with fire in their belly at the start of the second period.
Midfielder Allan Campbell would have a couple of early efforts from the edge of the area, the first blocked on route, the second pulled wide of target.
Then, three minutes later, slack play from Hearts allowed Thomas time and space to run at the visiting defence. Cutting in onto his left foot his shot looked to be troubling Noring, but yet another decisive block denied Motherwell, this time former Polish U21 stopper Krystian Nowak did enough.
Hearts first opening of the second half fell to Muirhead, but his half-volley on the spin bounced five or six yards wide of Pettigrew’s post.
Motherwell were in control of possession though and always looked the most likely, albeit repeatedly failing to pick out a man with the final ball was a constant source of frustration for ‘Well boss Craigan.
Although, they did get through with some impressive link play between Thomas and Mackin, the latter slipping a nice ball into the path of the supporting Turnbull, who found himself one on one with Noring. However, the big keeper stood up well and saved the low shot with his feet at the expense of a corner.
Thomas had another close shave, with a fired low effort again blocked by Nowak before Mackin brought out another decent catch from Noring, when he got on the end of a Hastie cross, only to watch his looping header saved by Hearts number one.
Hearts rarely troubled ‘Well in the final third, but almost wrapped up the game with a stunning 40-yard volley from Nowak that only just sailed wide of Pettigrew’s post.
Instead, it was left to ‘Well to push in the final ten, but the closest they could muster was yet another blocked effort, this time when Luke Watt danced around a couple of challenges, only to see his low shot again blocked by the sliding Hearts defence.
Motherwell: Pettigrew, Watt, Armstrong, Maguire, Ferguson, Campbell, Thomas, Turnbull (Watters – 74mins), Mackin, Hastie, Fry (Falconer – 84mins)
Subs Not Used: Stevenson, Livingstone, Agyeman, Scott