There was a sense of novelty to this one. For Hearts it was their first win in seven games. For Motherwell, it was simply that this was the first time in four matches where they were facing anyone other than Celtic.
On paper, a trip to Tynecastle was not as daunting as another head to head with the ‘Invincibles’ but, minus the injured Louis Moult, Stephen Robinson’s men must enter any match with a heightened sense of trepidation.
With goals such a vital commodity, yesterday was the perfect illustration of how teams can huff and puff but without someone who can put the ball in the back of the net, frustration is the only winner.
Hearts are a team who can vouch for that, having struggled in that department this season. The starting line-up included only two players who have managed to score this term and one of them, Jamie Walker, had to leave the field with a tight hamstring after 21 minutes.
That left Kyle Lafferty as the only man to have found the target and he managed it again, in the 39th minute, to give his side an advantage and something to cling to.
“The last three weeks, the normality was feeling frustrated, today I’m feeling pretty good, said Tynecastle manager Craig Levein, who finally saw his men secure a triumph in front of the new main stand. “That ball going over the line, what a difference it makes to your mood after the match.”
It also made a difference to the players’ belief throughout the encounter, as they matched Motherwell and did enough to win only their fourth game in 13. After the craziness of last week’s match, Levein had said that he was craving a simple win to get them back on track and his men obliged. But it was a nervy conclusion as they shuffled the formation, going with a central three at the back, and tried to keep their guests at arm’s length. Dogged in their defending, it worked.
“We have defended like a top three or four team and scored goals like a bottom three or four team. That needs to improve,” admitted Levein, who knows that injecting goals into the mix is crucial in the January transfer window if they are to climb back up the league table and overhaul the likes of Motherwell. “Between them, Kyle and Isma [Goncalves] have scored the bulk of our goals and we need to add to that. But I’m hopeful the confidence will come now and with it goalscoring. But we know we are lacking balance in the team at the moment.
“I said to the players afterwards that we can talk as much as we like about what you deserve, missed chances and luck but the only thing that makes you feel better is winning. You need to win before you start to play better too. I’m sure this will help.”
Motherwell manager Robinson refused to use the absence of Moult as an excuse, saying it was up to other players to seize the opportunity to impress, but they lacked the nous to find a way past the home rearguard. They kept at it and laid siege to Jon McLaughlin’s goal in the latter part of the contest but it amounted to very little in the way of clear cut chances.
“When you give up territory and defend your box as well as we did it’s satisfying, said Levein. “It’s a test. In recent matches we had opportunities to score the goals and still lost the games. It’s happened on numerous occasions.”
There was no need to lament the loss of sloppy goals yesterday, while at the other end, they succeeded in carving out the only opening.
In the 39th minute Prince Buaben, who had a good game, passed to Don Cowie and he played in Lafferty. The Northern Ireland striker, who was back in the starting line-up having recovered from a lingering bug, still had plenty to do, though. Cedric Kipre got across to marshal him but a turn by Lafferty saw the Frenchman lose his footing and that allowed the targetman to cut in on goal. Having rounded Carl McHugh as well, he unleashed a close-range shot that gave his men the lead and, ultimately, the victory.
Motherwell were left to rue their misfortune. “There was nothing in the game – the goal’s comical as well,” said Robinson. “There’s a foul on Alan Campbell in the middle of the pitch, I’ve heard there’s a handball in there as well, then Cedric Kipre slips and Carl McHugh slips when Kyle Lafferty’s going nowhere so that’s frustrating.
“We dominated large bits of the game without really hurting them and making something happen, and that’s frustrating as well, coming to Tynecastle with that much ownership of the game and coming out with nothing.”