Hearts continue unbeaten run with victory over Motherwell
Hearts have moved to the top of the cinch Premiership with a 2-0 victory over Motherwell at Tynecastle. Jack Donnelly reports.
After dazzling home supporters against Livingston last weekend, Hearts were able to keep smiles on faces as they ran out 2-0 winners over Motherwell at Tynecastle, keeping their unbeaten run intact and moving them to the top of the cinch Premiership.
Goals from Liam Boyce and Stephen Kingsley saw the Jambos run out victorious over the Steelmen, who came to Tynecastle in good form themselves, having not lost in the Premiership since the opening weekend against Hibernian.
Robbie Neilson opted not to change a thing from the side that defeated Livingston at Tynecastle last weekend, in what was on of Hearts’ best performances since his return to the club. Motherwell made just one change to the team that were victorious over Ross County, with Bevis Mugabi being recalled into defence in place of Ricki Lamie.
After just four minutes, Hearts had the perfect opportunity to take the lead from the penalty spot. After being played through by Barrie McKay, Liam Boyce raced against Liam Kelly to latch onto the pass. The striker arrived first and was brought down by the Motherwell keeper, leaving referee David Munro with the easy decision to blow for a spot kick. Boyce stepped up and buried the penalty into the bottom left corner for his sixth league goal of the season and Hearts’ first of the afternoon.
Boyce was involved throughout the early stages of the match, using his body well to keep Juhani Ojala away from the ball. The defender hauled the goal-scorer down just inside the Motherwell half after 10 minutes and received a yellow card for his efforts.
Hearts were keeping possession very well in the opening 20 minutes, passing the ball around Motherwell with relative ease. When Motherwell did get their foot on the ball and look to press forward, a sea of maroon shirts would swarm back to make any sort of progression very difficult for the Steelmen.
Hearts found themselves with another great goalscoring opportunity from a set piece after 22 minutes. Beni Baningime was brought down on the edge of the box by Ojala, and Stephen Kingsley stepped up to curl the resulting free kick in past a poorly positioned Kelly.
Hearts continued to keep their foot on the gas and press forward. Mugabi and Ojala both had to be on hand to deal with a number of searching balls into the Motherwell penalty area, but any clearance would be picked up by a man in maroon and the away side would have to deal with another attack.
Motherwell’s first real chance came after half an hour, after Kaiyne Woolery found himself in a pocket of space and fired a drive towards Craig Gordon’s goal. A deflection wrong-footed the Hearts keeper, but he was able to breathe a sigh of relief as the touch took the effort wide.
Michael Smith was a constant menace on the right-hand side, consistently cutting infield and spraying passes. One of these passes found the feet of Ben Woodburn, who teed up a strike from 25 yards, forcing Kelly into an important stop.
Motherwell had grown into the game and were beginning to look more convincing, with the away side giving Hearts a real scare in the half’s final moments. Tony Watt let an effort fly from 25 yards, forcing Gordon into a fingertip save to push the effort over the bar. The resulting corner found Mugabi, who headed goalwards, but Gordon got down equal to it, bringing the half to a close with his save.
Hearts began the second half almost as successfully as the first. Boyce picked up the ball on the right and clipped a lovely pass into the path of Cameron Devlin. The midfielder got his shot away, but despite beating Kelly, the effort went just wide of the bottom left corner.
In the 48th minute, Tynecastle came together in applause to honour the memory of lifelong Hearts supporter Paul Chambers, who sadly lost his life to cancer last weekend, aged 48.
Hearts were awarded a second penalty in the 55th minute, as Devlin was brought down at the end of a slick attacking move. This time, however, Boyce was unable to find the back of the net, with Kelly pulling off a fine stop to deny the striker from the spot.
From one good save to another, Gordon was called into action less than a minute later. Kevin van Veen played Woolery clean through on the right- hand side, and the winger tried to fire an effort into the far corner, but Gordon got down quickly to keep his clean sheet intact, with the stop resulting in chants of “Scotland’s number one” from the home support.
Beni Baningime has been a wildly popular figure in this Hearts side since arriving from Everton in the summer, and he almost bagged his first Hearts goal after foraying into the box and cutting past two Motherwell defenders, but his effort was tipped wide by a flying Kelly.
Andy Halliday was next to try his luck for Hearts. The defender, who came on for an injured Craig Halkett, was first to a headed clearance from Stephen O’Donnell, but his first-time volley went wide of the mark.
In the 68th minute, van Veen tried to spectacular from 25 yards. The ball dropped to the big forward following a clearance, and he sent a first-time scissor kick towards goal, but the effort dropped just wide of Gordon’s goal.
With the game creeping into its final stages, Hearts had eased off a bit, playing slightly more defensively and allowing Motherwell more of the ball. Despite the increase in possession, however, Motherwell didn’t create much of note, with the home side packing bodies behind the ball.
Gordon was forced into another great save just before stoppage time, as he leapt to deny Ojala’s headed effort from close range.
Munro blew his whistle for the final time after five additional minutes and Hearts’ victory was confirmed. The home side were deserved winners in the end, limiting Motherwell to little in terms of attacking play and providing more than enough threat going forward.
With the international break following this weekend’s fixtures, both sides will need to wait two weeks until they are back in action. Hearts will return from the break with a trip to champions Rangers at Ibrox, while Motherwell will welcome Celtic to Fir Park.