TALK about an impact substitute. Craig Moore had only been on the pitch for a matter of seconds when he drilled a right-foot shot into the top corner of the Hearts goal.
SCORERS: Motherwell - Moore 69, Hutchinson 83; Hearts - Stevenson 62
It led to him being named man of the match by the sponsors and, more importantly, it paved the way for a Motherwell comeback. Still, the 18-year-old will still have to travel to Montrose for a Youth Cup tie today.
“I’ve no problem with that though – playing football is playing football,” said the player, who was declared surplus to requirements by Hearts as a 15-year-old. “The ball just sat perfectly and the only thought in my head was to strike it. Luckily enough I struck it as well as I could. It’s definitely my best day in football. I’ve never struck the ball as sweetly.”
The fact that the Motherwell kid actually came through the ranks at Hearts with many of the guys who are charged with ensuring Hearts’ Premiership survival this season simply smeared salt in the gaping wounds of the capital side, who are now 13 points adrift of both St Mirren and Kilmarnock. The latter welcome Gary Locke’s men next weekend.
“From the start of the season, being 15 points adrift was never going to be easy, so it is a disappointing day for us in as much as St Mirren have won, Kilmarnock have won, and we’ve got beat and lost Calum Paterson through injury,” said the gutted Hearts boss. “It’s been a bad day, but one thing we can’t do, we can’t feel sorry for ourselves. The boys are disappointed, but we aren’t a million miles away. We competed against a really good side who I think will be in the top two or three.
“Every game is huge, but next week is probably even more important because of the way the results went today.”
There had been a sense of shocked disbelief in the home ranks when Hearts had taken the lead in the 61st minute. Having survived a scare prior to the interval, when Hearts forced a double save from keeper Gunnar Neilsen, with efforts from Jamie Walker and then David Smith, Motherwell had shown far more intent in the opening period of the second half. In fact, they had spent the previous ten minutes in particular camped out in their visitors’ box attempting to batter their way through an extremely stubborn rearguard. Jamie MacDonald made saves from John Sutton, Henri Anier, Zaine Francis-Angol and Keith Lasley, as well as last-gasp blocks and a Callum Tapping clearance off the line from a Shaun Hutchinson effort. But then came the counter attack.
Scott Robinson had made headlines recently when he criticised his manager Locke and claimed he was being singled out for unfair treatment. That row was settled internally, according to the club, but having come on as a second-half substitute he certainly had some making up to do and it was a ball forward from the midfielder which picked out Ryan Stevenson. The forward, cutting in on the angle, pulled off a couple of wee step overs before lashing a low shot past Neilsen.
“We’ve upped performances in the second half before and we did that again, said Motherwell manager Stuart McCall. “But just when you think a goal’s coming, they catch us on the break and it was time to show character. We’ve got good experience, but it was a youngster who got us back on track.”
Motherwell had promised to do their bit to help the cash-stricken capital club, pledging to donate £1 for every away fan in attendance to Hearts.
There were 1,253 in the crowd of 5,350 who made the journey through. It means that the day was not a complete waste, even although Motherwell fought back to ensure they wouldn’t leave with any points.
McCall had made a double substitution in the 77th minute and by the time Moore, who was making his league debut, had made it from the sideline to within 30 yards, the ball landed for him and he zipped it past MacDonald.
“He’s deserved his chance,” said a delighted McCall. “He went out on loan last season and scored seven goals. He’s had to bide his time, but he’s been knocking on the door. He’s got fantastic appetite and a great attitude and I was so pleased for him and his family. His first touch in league football ended up in the back of the net.”
That set the game up nicely for a final charge, something noted by the stadium announcer, who unleashed a sound effect as they players lined up for an 82nd minute corner. It was prophetic as despite winning so many headers at set pieces, this was the money they finally made one of them count, Hutchinson rising to send his header into the turf and then up beyond MacDonald to leave Hearts again cursing their bad luck.