Motherwell produced their best cinch Premiership performance of the season to comfortably sweep aside Hearts 2-0.
Not for the first time the Fir Park side made an impressive start and Connor Shields’ first league goal after 23 minutes was a perfect foundation for a wonderful win.
On this occasion, though, Alexander’s men maintained the momentum for 90 minutes and Ricki Lamie’s goal early in the second half sealed the points.
With the Tynecastle side reduced to ten men for the final 25 minutes and ‘Well’s pressure on Craig Gordon’s goal almost relentless, the only criticism is that the winning margin should have been greater
Graham Alexander was forced into four changes from the side which won at Pittodrie.
Stephen O’Donnell, with his inclusion in Scotland’s win over Denmark on Monday making him Motherwell’s most capped Scotland player, returned from suspension – only to find himself on the bench. With Juhani Ojala still injured, Lamie was preferred to partner Sondre Solholm in the heart of the home defence. Callum Slattery was recalled to midfield for the injured Mark O’Hara.
Kevin van Veen’s yellow card at Pittodrie meant he had to sit this one out and with Jordan Roberts unable to face his parent club, it meant Tony Watt was partnered in attack with Kaiyne Woolery and Shields.
Scotland’s goal hero John Souttar and ‘keeper Craig Gordon lined up with a huge travelling support literally behind them in the newly named Tommy McLean Stand.
In a frenetic start, the Motherwell players appeared determined to make amends for their last home appearance against Rangers, fiercely competing for every ball and keeping Hearts largely pinned into their own half.
That said, the first chance came the visitors’ way after 10 minutes when Barrie McKay’s crossfield pass found Ben Woodburn racing in behind the home defence.
However, the on-loan Liverpool striker’s first touch was poor aimlessly sending the ball safely to the waiting Liam Kelly.
A minute later, Gordon made an equally simple save, after a powerful 25-yard drive from Goss took a deflection and the pace off the ball.
Woolery was next to try his luck from the edge of the box but his firmly struck shot raced just wide of the goal.
A long ball down the right channel then found Woolery with time to fire a ball low into the Hearts’ box. Goss made the initial attempt on goal but when his shot was blocked, Shields lashed the ball past Gordon for a goal their positive start deserved.
A few minutes later only a terrific save from Gordon prevented the Steelmen going two ahead.
Slattery’s corner was only cleared to Barry Maguire and his thumping drive from 20 yards was acrobatically blocked by the Scotland ‘keeper.
As ‘Well continued to press play towards the visitors’ goal, the Hearts fans were strangely subdued as the home side came close again on the half-hour mark.
Once again Woolery created the opening with his ball from the right this time finding Watt, whose turn and shot was blocked in front of Gordon.
In the opposite goal, Kelly was limited to comfortably clearing the ball with his feet as his defence kept a high line against the Hearts’ attack.
Two minutes from the interval the Tynecastle men had a final chance to force the ‘Well ‘keeper into his first save after a speedy break and inviting ball from McKay sent Josh Ginnelly through on goal.
But before he could get his shot away Lamie had raced across his box to block the danger and leave an impressive Motherwell ahead at half-time.
Any questions that the Fir Park could sustain the pressure on the Hearts were answered within three minutes of the restart.
Kelly, almost playing as a sweeper, sent a measured pass towards Watt. His cute head flick sent Woolery clear on the left and his smart cross intended for the waiting Shields was diverted over his own bar by Kingsley.
From Slattery’s corner, Mugabi’s boot sent the ball towards goal only for Souttar’s head to deflect it over the bar.
The pressure on Gordon’s goal was immense especially from Woolery’s trickery and low crosses into the six-yard area and Souttar and again provided the cover to concede yet another corner.
After 57 minutes, Kelly was required to make his first save of the game comfortably clutching Woodburn’s rising drive from 20 yards.
That gave the Hearts fans something to cheer and a minute later they were on their feet to welcome leading scorer Liam Boyce into the action.
But after Slattery squandered a good chance for the home side, firing over from 30 yards when he had Watt and Woolery in support, Robbie Neilson’s game plan was thrown into disarray as his side went down to ten men.
Already on a yellow card, Moore’s barge into the back of Shields as the ‘Well striker raced toward the penalty area earned the defender a second yellow and his side a man down for the remaining 25 minutes.
It became a double punishment when Goss curled the resultant free-kick to the back of the six-yard box, where Lamie powered his header back across Gordon and inside the ‘keeper’s right-hand post to make it 2-0.
That combined to have Hearts on the back foot for the next 10 minutes when ‘Well should have extended their lead.
Firstly, Watt’s low shot from the edge of the box took a slight deflection edging the ball just wide of the post with Gordon at full stretch.
Then in the 72nd minute, the Hearts’ ‘keeper produced a fantastic double save to deny Motherwell the third goal.
Watt’s footwork and delivery from the left found Woolery at the back post and his close-range header was brilliantly palmed onto the post by the ‘keeper.
As the ball rebounded to Shields, Gordon somehow recovered his position in the centre of his goal to block a thunderous effort from the ‘Well striker.
As the Edinburgh side chased a goal to get them back into the game it was becoming an end to end affair. The lethal Boyce had a chance to reduce the leeway but his angled drive was well blocked by Kelly.
The ‘Well boss probably thought the game was too open and sent on O’Donnell for Woolery as both players received a standing ovation from the home fans, as the Steelmen went on to hold a firm grip of the game.
A final ovation was reserved for Shields when he was substituted five minutes from time. Apart from grabbing his first league goal since arriving from Queen of the South, the striker showed a tremendous drive and pace as he gave a highly regarded Hearts’ defence a thoroughly miserable afternoon.