Although Hearts have a poor record at Fir Park in recent seasons, they deservedly came out on top tonight against managerless Motherwell. Eggert Jonsson and Ian Black were missing through illness, so Darren Barr and Ryan Stevenson came into the team and acquitted themselves well – especially in the 2nd half.
Hearts` best chance of the first half fell to Stephen Elliott, when a perfect Templeton cross from the left at knee height only needed to be prodded home – unfortunately, he managed to knock it over the bar. Real scoring chances were scarce, and although Motherwell had enjoyed more of the possession, they only threatened Marian Kello a couple of times. With 2 minutes of the first half left, great harrying by Kyle and Elliott on the right enabled the ball to be knocked into the middle where Templeton tried a great overhead kick from 12 yards out. The keeper parried it, and he would have grabbed it on the line if Reynolds hadn`t tried to kick the ball against him – which forced it over the line for a goal.
Unfortunately, the team were caught out 60 seconds later when a poor Zaliukas clearance fell to Gow who played a clever pass for Lasley to run on to and beat Kello from 12 yards. 1-1 at half-time.
Hearts came out stronger in the 2nd half, with Templeton heading a Kyle cross over the bar. Then Elliott should have put the visitors ahead in the 60th minute, after great work from Barr and Stevenson gave him a great shooting chance. Sadly, his shot came back off the bar – and he headed the rebound over.
Within a few minutes however, Hearts were back in front – some brilliant close control at speed by David Templeton provoked Stephen Craigan to clearly impede him inside the box, and referee O’Reilly correctly awarded the penalty. Kevin Kyle sent keeper Randolph the wrong way.
Craigan vehemently protested his innocence, but it was a typically cynical foul by the Motherwell captain – and the TV cameras showed quite clearly that he had brought Templeton down. 10 minutes later another great run from the wee man was halted by another cynical “brush across the heels” on the edge of the box – but this time, the referee chose to ignore what looked like a blatant foul.
Motherwell had a couple of late attempts to get a shot on goal from inside the Hearts box and it took some last-gasp defending to block their efforts. At one of them, Steve Jennings made too much of a complaint to the referee when Gow fell in the box, and he was shown a straight red card – possibly a bit harsh, I thought. The sending-off was too much of a handicap for the home side and Hearts confidently held out to record their 6th straight victory, although some fans will lament that fact that they didn`t record another clean sheet too.
Although Skacel was quieter than usual tonight, Kyle and Templeton were outstanding. As I mentioned in the last report, this current squad seem to have a great spirit and belief – and this breeds the sort of movement and passing which is very pleasing to watch.
This latest win brings us to within 3 points of 2nd-placed Celtic (although they have a game in hand). Personally, I hope fans don’t start expecting a 2nd place finish – for a start, there`s still more than half the matches left to play. At some stage we`ll probably start dropping points – so the cliché of “take each game as it comes” is likely to be the best approach for the time being.
Saturday`s game against Inverness will be another big test. The visitors have not lost an away game for over a year, and they have their own Templeton in the shape of Adam Rooney. Let`s hope for decent weather, and a sell-out crowd.
Well done Hearts !!