Motherwell slipped to a disappointing 2-1 home defeat against Hearts at Fir Park on Saturday afternoon.
Lawrence Shankland’s goal midway through the first half left the Steelmen once again chasing the game. And when the Hearts’ striker netted again 19 minutes from time it was game over.
When Blair Spittal slammed his penalty high past Clark it gave ‘Well 13 minutes to salvage something from the game but a dramatic fightback never looked on the cards.
With both teams eager rediscover some winning form, an open and evenly contested game was anticipated. And although Motherwell started the game with a great deal of intent and pressure towards the visitor’s goal, Zander Clark’s goal was rarely threatened.
Stuart Kettlewell made one change from the side which started in Perth on Tuesday. Theo Bair, who made an impact from the bench against St Johnstone as ‘Well fought back from two nil down for a draw, replacing Brodie Spencer.
And the Canadian forward had a great opportunity to open the scoring after only five minutes. Mika Biereth put Franke Kent under pressure to concede the first corner of the game. Blair Spittal’s out-swinger found Bair unmarked eight yards from goal but he screwed his header well off the target.
In an impressive opening spell the Steelmen forced Hearts onto the backfoot as the visitor’s defence looked rather nervous.
After 16 minutes though the attention was directed towards the home when Liam Boyce was given time to control the ball in the box before firing wide of Liam Kelly’s left-hand post.
It then took a couple of sturdy blocks from ‘Well defenders to prevent two consecutive drives from Shankland testing Kelly.
The Tynecastle side’s top scorer only had to wait until the 27th minute to claim his 9th goal of the season. Alex Lowry’s deep corner kick was nodded back towards the six-yard box where Shankland’s touch directed the ball into the corner of the net.
It might have been worse for the Fir Park men a couple of minutes later. But Hearts’ claims for a penalty after Dan Casey appeared to have caught Boyce just inside the box, were dismissed after a lengthy and nervous VAR review.
From then until the break Motherwell repeatedly failed to hold the ball in the opponent’s half as the Edinburgh side maintained the pressure on the home goal.
Perhaps relieved to reach half-time only one goal behind, Kettlewell kept Bair inside for the second half bringing on Brodie Spencer and allowing Spittal to move further up the park.
It took ‘Well only two minutes to respond to the change. Spencer’s pace on the left won a corner. Spittal’s delivery was only partially cleared and when the ball was returned it found Casey unmarked beyond the corner of the six-yard box. From a tight angle though, the defender fired his drive high and narrowly wide of Zander Clark’s right-hand post.
Hearts and Shankland looked more likely to double their advantage and on the hour mark the striker’s net bound shot from six yards was blocked by his fellow striker Boyce.
Three minutes later ‘Well survived another VAR check for a penalty after Shankland tumbled in the box.
Shankland, though, was not to be denied a second goal.
In the 71st minute the Scotland striker broke through the middle of the home defence, rounding Kelly and although Casey was racing back to protect the goal, Shankland calmly stroked the ball home to make it 0-2.
‘Well immediately made a double substitution, not universally received by the home fans, as talisman Biereth and Wilkinson made way for Oli Shaw and John Obika.
Six minutes later, though, the change paid off. Shaw’s quick turn and shot in the box struck Alex Cochrane’s raised hand. Referee David Munro immediately pointed to the penalty spot and VAR agreed leaving Spittal to confidently thump his spot kick high beyond Clark to give the Steelmen some hope of yet another dramatic fightback.
Spittal dragged his left foot drive wide before Shane Blaney’s lunge just failed to connect with Georgie Gent’s free kick into the six yard area.
In the now customary frenetic finish from the home side, Bevis Magubi was brought on as an extra forward for the five additional minutes.
However, Hearts controlled the closing minutes to ensure that Motherwell wouldn’t claim a late equaliser and a point they scarcely deserved.