DESPITE battling against the elements as much as each other, Motherwell and Hearts offered up a thoroughly entertaining 90 minutes of football with chances raining down from all angles, though it was the hosts who had a much sunnier outlook on life at full-time.
One day after centre back Blazej Augustyn insisted Hearts could challenge for the Ladbrokes Premiership title, the Gorgie Road side twice trailed to a side who now occupy the relegation play-off spot. And even though they showed the necessary determination to fight back, they were in no mood to look on the positives at full-time.
“We’re disappointed. We wanted to come here and get the three points,” said Hearts manager Robbie Neilson. “The conditions were horrific at times. You’re asking guys to come here and play football and you saw what was happening, you’ve got a boy who can’t take a free-kick because the ball was blowing about.”
While the weather – almost freezing temperatures, heavy horizontal rain – meant the game lacked a bit of subtlety, there was no doubting the ambition of both sides as they traded blows right from the first whistle.
Louis Moult got the opener inside two minutes but he could have netted sooner had he been a little quicker when Augustyn played a short back-pass to Neil Alexander. The striker did, however, win the bout of strength 20 seconds later when the same two players went up for a Marvin Johnson cross. Alexander hit the deck, adamant he’d been fouled, leaving the striker to tap home from a yard out.
A short time later Hearts were level. Osman Sow held off Kieran Kennedy before playing a perfectly weighted pass through for Juanma. The striker coolly finished by lifting the ball over the onrushing Connor Ripley. Sow won the individual battle against Kennedy again moments later, but shot right at the goalkeeper.
It was then Motherwell’s turn to threaten with a terrific move around the penalty area ending with Stephen Pearson having his goalbound shot blocked by Juwon Oshaniwa. Up the other end Hearts twice wasted headed chances from free-kicks. First Igor Rossi missed the target from six yards before Callum Paterson was foiled at the back post by a terrific Ripley save.
The play then swung back in favour of the hosts, with Johnson involved in two chances within three minutes. First the winger crossed for Scott McDonald, whose low shot was cleared off the goal-line, then Johnson planted a shot into the keeper’s midriff from the edge of the area.
For a period the weather threatened to drown out the entertainment, but the game came back to life after the hour with McDonald going close on two occasions before Juanma almost delivered a carbon copy of his first goal. This time seeing his dinked effort drift wide.
From that chance Motherwell broke up the park to score. After McDonald was cleared out by Rossi at halfway, Johnson charged on to the loose ball. Hearts still had Jordan McGhee back covering, though the substitute had no answer for Johnson’s quick feet as he shifted the ball inside and out before firing into the far corner.
Unfortunately for the hosts, Johnson was almost immediately forced from the action with a tight hamstring and Motherwell never again looked the same threat.
Hearts finished in the ascendancy, with Sow getting things started. The striker had no business deciding to shoot 35 yards from goal on a promising counter-attack, and he almost seemed sheepish in his celebration after his astonishing effort dipped and swerved past Ripley.
While Motherwell had to deal with heavy pressure, they at least limited the pre-game favourites to one proper chance in the closing minutes. Juanma’s shot from the left of the penalty area broke for Sow. The striker should have done better than to shoot straight at Ripley, though not as bad as Sam Nicholson who blazed the rebound over the bar.