Motherwell 0 Heart of Midlothian 1
Ladbrokes Premiership – Saturday 15th September 2018 – Fir Park
Can Hearts supporters dare to believe? Craig Levein’s table-topping side extended their lead at the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership table to five points on Saturday after a hard-fought but thoroughly merited victory over Motherwell at Fir Park.
Steven Naismith continued his rich vein of form by grabbing the only goal in the first half and with champions Celtic being held to a draw at St Mirren on Friday evening, there is clear daylight between the Maroons and rest at the top of the league.
Levein was watching from the stand after missing Hearts last game when he was recovering from a heart-related condition which kept him hospital for a few days. The Gorgie gaffer made a couple of changes from the team that hammered St Mirren two weeks ago. Ben Garuccio could count himself unfortunate to make way for the returning Arnaud Djoum while Steven MacLean was replaced by Callumn Morrison.
Motherwell had the better of the early exchanges, but Hearts weathered the early storm and took the lead in the 28th minute. A pass back from home defender McHugh to keeper Carson was woefully short and this enabled Hearts Uche Ikpeazu to a challenge a fifty-fifty ball with the goalie. Anyone going into such a challenge with the Hearts man-mountain is bound to come off worst. And so it proved as the ball broke to Steven Naismith who stroked the ball home to put the blue-shirted visitors in front.
Carson was injured as a result and had to be replaced.
It was a game-changer. Hearts, after a shaky start, felt the confidence flow through their veins once more and the home side never looked like drawing parity.
Craig Levein was obviously delighted with the victory at a ground where Hearts have struggled recently. He told the official Hearts website:
“I thought it would be really tough today. I thought our base strength was our defending, and our two young centre-halves were nothing short of amazing.
“I watched the Motherwell v Rangers game and the Motherwell strikers caused them all sorts of problems, but today Bobby (Zlamal) only had one save to make because they defended magnificently.
“They were bombarding our box without creating any chances, and any time we won the ball it would set up a chance on the counter for us.
“We could have scored another three times on the break if we’d squared the ball, but that’s something to work on in training.
“I didn’t think there was a lot in the first half of the match, Callumn Morrison had a shot and Peter Haring should have scored a header, and Bobby obviously made that save to his right.
“My memory’s obviously getting better so that’s a good sign. In the second half we looked dangerous.”
The Maroon Army were at Fir Park in huge numbers with nearly 3,000 of them at Fir Park.
“I wanted to go out and see the fans at the end of the match,” Levein added. “I thought they were brilliant today, it was like a home game at times with the noise.
It’s still very early in the season, of course. But Hearts have made an excellent start. A team that could barely win a game away from Tynecastle last season have already won at Hamilton, Kilmarnock and Motherwell – venues where other leading teams have struggled. Celtic have been despatched at Tynecastle. Hearts have refused to let the loss of arguably the club’s best two players – Kyle Lafferty who has gone to Rangers and the long-term injury to captain Christophe Berra – affect them.
Hearts now have successive home games in the league against Livingston and St Johnstone. Sandwiched in between is a Betfred Cup quarter final against the team they defeated today – also at Tynecastle.
Assistant manager Austin MacPhee said a fortnight ago he hoped the Hearts support wouldn’t suffer from vertigo during the international break. Those dizzy spells could be about to get dizzier….
Motherwell: Carson (Gillespie, 32′), Tait, McHugh, Aldred, Hartley, Cadden (Frear, 60′), Campbell, Main, Rose, Bigirimana, Johnson (Bowman, 60′).
Hearts: Zlamal, Smith, Dunne, Souttar, Haring, Lee (Bozanic, 80′), Djoum, Mitchell, Naismith (Dikamona, 72′), Ikpeazu (MacLean, 86′), Morrison.
Referee: Bobby Madden
Top man: John Souttar
Mike Smith’s latest book, The Team For Me: 50 Years of Following Hearts, is now on sale at all good bookshops and is also available here.