GARY LOCKE and Darren Murray suffered defeat in their first match as interim Hearts managers due to a dreadul opening ten minutes.
Hearts 1 (Sutton) Motherwell 2 (Higdon, McGowan o.g)
Referee: Craig Thomson
Bookings: Motherwell (McFadden, Ojamaa)
Motherwell scored twice through Michael Higdon and a Dylan McGowan own goal to leave the home team with the proverbial mountain to climb at Tynecastle. John Sutton pulled one goal back but, despite mounting pressure in the second half, Hearts could not prise an equaliser.
Following manager John McGlynn’s exit on Thursday, Locke and Murray took temporary charge of Hearts against a Motherwell side fresh from their midweek victory over league-leaders Celtic. The Edinburgh club were seeking to end a five-game run without victory but sub-standard early defending ultimately cost them the game.
For the third match in five, Hearts lost a goal inside the opening five minutes. James McFadden skipped inside from the left flank away from McGowan and was fouled on the edge of the hosts’ penalty area as he prodded the ball through towards Higdon. Referee Craig Thomson sensibly allowed play to continue and Higdon stroked an accurate left-footed finish into the corner of the net.
Minutes later Motherwell doubled their advantage and again Higdon was involved. Steven Hammell’s looped delivery into the box was flicked on by the Englishman and Law struck two efforts in succession at Jamie MacDonald from an acute angle. The goalkeeper parried the first, but the second ended in the net via McGowan on the goal line.
It was the worst possible start for Locke and Murray with McFadden, Law and Higdon carving open the Hearts defence almost at will. Higdon in truth was dominating all around him, including Andy Webster and Danny Wilson, due to his physical presence and intelligent movement. He rounded MacDonald on 27 minutes from Henrik Ojamaa’s pass, however his ball across the face of goal was cleared by the covering Webster.
It took 34 minutes for Hearts to properly test Darren Randolph in the opposing goal. He was more than equal to the task when it arrived. Michael Ngoo swivelled to drive a shot low towards the goalkeeper’s right corner after John Sutton’s headed knockdown, but Randolph sprawled himself to push the ball clear. Other attempts from Ryan Stevenson - back from suspension - and Callum Tapping spun wide as those in maroon began asserting themselves towards the interval.
Arvydas Novikovas entered the fray for the second half and he delivered the corner from which Sutton reduced the deficit. The Lithuanian’s swirling cross was met on the run by the Englishman, who stooped to head beyond Randolph. Suddenly it was game on.
Webster shot narrowly wide from 20 yards and Randolph stopped a Novikovas free-kick as the hosts enjoyed some concerted pressure in pursuit of an equaliser. MacDonald was required to hold Higdon’s shot on the turn from substitute Omar Daley’s cross at the opposite end, but by and large Hearts enjoyed an overwhelming territorial advantage for much of the second period.
They couldn’t transform the dominance into a second goal, and the game ended with Motherwell taking three points back to Lanarkshire. They cemented themselves in second place in the Scottish Premier League table and left Hearts languishing in 11th.
Hearts (4-4-2): MacDonald; McGowan (Mullen 52), Webster, Wilson, McHattie; Stevenson, Tapping (Novikovas 46), Taouil, Walker (B King 77); Sutton, Ngoo. Subs: Ridgers, Holt, Prychynenko, Carrick.
Motherwell (4-4-2): Randolph; Hateley, Hutchinson, Cummins, Hammell; Humphrey (Daley 58), Lasley, Law, McFadden (Carswell 79); Higdon, Ojamaa (McHugh 73). Subs: Hollis, Saunders, Higginbotham, Kerr.