Motherwell 1, Hearts 2; March 2, 2002
IT was a dream debut for Robert Sloan almost 11 years ago as he scored the winner at Fir Park, with fellow debutant Graeme Weir also having a good first start for Craig Levein’s team.
Hearts almost took an early lead when a dangerous cross was played from the right by Thomas Flogel. Kevin McKenna got on the end of it in the six-yard box and his first-time shot was on target. However, it rebounded off the helpless Weir and bounced safely behind.
A bustling run by Ricardo Fuller in the fourth minute earned a corner, but Steven Pressley’s header from Sloan’s left wing corner lacked power and direction.
The visiting support didn’t have to wait much longer for their side to open the scoring, though.
It was all so simple, with Flogel threading a ball straight through the middle towards Scott Severin who caught it first time and hooked a low shot past the flailing Stevie Woods.
Hearts continued to grow in confidence, none more so than Fuller, whose brazen hitch-kick over his own head and that of defender Martyn Corrigan, to provide a low cross across the face of the goal, surprised both sets of players.
Alan Maybury, untroubled in defence by a Motherwell side which failed to have one shot on target in the opening 45, then let fly from long range, but his shot hit the advertising boardings.
Hearts got a fright in the third minute of the second half when James McFadden, looking suspiciously offside, chased a bouncing ball towards the 18-yard flank. Jam Tarts Custodian Anti Niemi raced from his goal and got to the ball first, blocking it with his chest.
Newcomer Sloan had a chance for his first goal when he found himself with the net at his mercy after Fuller laid the ball into his path. However, instead of shooting on sight, the youngster dragged the ball across the face of the goal, where there were no takers.
It proved to be an expensive miss because Motherwell were back on level terms in the 55th minute. An innocuous free kick from Karl Ready was lofted into the penalty area and, with Pressley and Stephane Mahe looking at the ball, it fell to the feet of Keith Lasley, who blasted it into the top corner.
Motherwell continued to press and a cross from the right was almost deflected past Niemi, only to be headed behind by Maybury for what was the hosts’ first corner of the afternoon.
And still Motherwell played with more aggression as they chased a second goal. McFadden, largely anonymous for the previous hour, twisted and turned in the penalty area, but failed to find space for a shot.
Hearts survived and Weir was almost clean through on goal, but Woods smothered the ball bravely at his feet.
With the game swinging from end to end, Dirk Lehmann had another stinging shot which the Hearts goalkeeper could not hold. Then, after 75 minutes, Fuller, who refused to be substituted after picking up a leg knock, shrugged it off in the best possible fashion – a slaloming run through the Motherwell defence and a final shot which Woods had to go to full stretch to push behind.
With skipper Pressley already sporting a head bandage, there was another scare when Kevin McKenna went down in a heap after a clash of heads.
He recovered only to see Pressley go down again. Hearts continued to press for the winner and a Mahe cross was chested back to goalkeeper Woods by Leitch, with the Hearts players claiming a hand had been used.
With eight minutes remaining, youngster Sloan latched on to a loose ball after a scramble in the box and kept his composure to send a shot that came off the post before coming to rest in the back of the net.