Despite losing for the eighth time in nine matches, Heart of Midlothian turned in a far superior performance against Motherwell in a match they could have easily drawn. Supported by a crowd of 12,888, no doubt slightly perturbed that the home side were resplendent in white as opposed to their traditional maroon, Hearts, despite enjoying the first chance were soon on the back foot.
Time and again Kevin McHattie and Jordan McGhee were turned inside out by Steven Hammell’s play on Motherwell’s left side. His crosses were regularly met by the head of Motherwell’s number nine John Sutton; however he was unable to master his headed opportunities, sending them into the front rows of the Gorgie Road End. Aside from a chance in the opening exchanges and a shot which glanced across goal from McHattie, Hearts were often caught on the counter. Hearts supporters are no doubt occasionally frustrated with their side despite their current predicament; at times the passing was suspect, Jamie Hamill and Ryan Stevenson despite setting up attacks were regularly wasteful with the ball and it would appear not one player in the squad could cross the ball with much panache.
As the match progressed towards the half hour point Motherwell’s Lionel Ainsworth who has enjoyed a fine spell of form in the recent rounds of fixtures came into his own. Working in on the right he released a stinging shot on 33 minutes which was turned away by Jamie MacDonald in the Hearts goal, who had previously saved a James McFadden effort which had been set up by Ainsworth. In the match programme MacDonald, despite Hearts’ difficult season, said this had been his best season as the number one. One wonders how they would be fairing without MacDonald’s skills in goal; surely Gordon Strachan must have MacDonald in his thoughts for Scotland’s upcoming international matches.
He was foiled however by former team mate Sutton on 40 minutes. Picking up the ball the Englishman rounded two Hearts defenders and MacDonald before slotting the ball in the net with his left foot from what his manager Stuart McCall described as an impossible angle. The goal was a long time in coming after a series of Motherwell chances during a half that they had dominated, with Sutton making amends for the chances he had earlier spurned.
While the away side had dominated the first half much to the delight of the vocal contingent of chanters housed in the upper reaches of the Roseburn Stand, it was the home fans who were galvanised in the opening exchanges of the second, a half they dominated. David Smith, who had a fine performance today, fired in a rasping shot from distance which Nielsen in the Motherwell goal saved with some difficulty.
This resulted in a series of chances for Hearts. Stevenson fired over from 25 yards, however his dipping corner which crashed off the crossbar would have without doubt have been a contender for goal of the season if it had gone in. This period of the half belonged to Hearts, with the introduction of Jamie Walker providing a spark. However, in the post-match press conference Gary Locke informed the assembled ranks that Walker had suffered what looks like a metatarsal injury which would surely end his season and stretch an already threadbare squad.
While Motherwell were not at their commanding best in the second half they were no doubt assisted by their opponents lack of incisiveness in front of goal. Jamie Hamill who was sporting the facial hair and shiny head which would not go amiss on the front-man of a German heavy metal band fluffed an excellent chance. The ball fell to him in the box only for the midfielder to take one touch too many and send the ball clanging off the arm of a Motherwell defender, who was given the benefit of the doubt by referee Willie Collum, much to the ire of the Gorgie faithful demanding a penalty not for the only time in the match with Calum Paterson claiming a hand was used to deny a headed effort of his.
Such bad luck was fitting with the tale of toil that has been Hearts’ season so far; again, it was tragically fitting that in the dying embers of the match Billy King and Hamill managed to send a ball across Nielsen’s goal to no avail.
With the match over, Hearts take another step on what is becoming the longest funeral march in Premier League history towards the Championship while Motherwell continue to jostle at the top for second spot. A Motherwell win, however Hearts can quite rightly feel aggrieved that they took nothing from yet another match.
A feature on Heart of Midlothian – their current predicament and hopes for the future – will be published on 6 February in The Saint‘s first issue of the semester.