Hearts ease pressure with Motherwell win - Shankland's Scotland reminder, referee snubs VAR, player ratings

Hearts earned a much-needed 2-1 victory away to Motherwell to ease the pressure on manager Steven Naismith ahead of the international break
Lawrence Shankland celebrates after scoring his and Hearts' second goal in the win at Motherwell. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)Lawrence Shankland celebrates after scoring his and Hearts' second goal in the win at Motherwell. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Lawrence Shankland celebrates after scoring his and Hearts' second goal in the win at Motherwell. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

Steven Naismith will be able to enjoy the international break a little more now. The pressure had been steadily building on the Hearts manager after an indifferent run of form but this merited victory against an ineffective Motherwell side ought to buy the former striker some time and silence some of his critics. For now at least.

This wasn’t Hearts at their best but they were still too good for their hosts who have now gone nine games without a win and were booed off by their supporters after a late rally that never really threatened to bring about an equaliser.

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In contrast, the visiting support were in their element. Once more they had cause to give thanks for Lawrence Shankland whose two goals proved ultimately the difference here, making Blair Spittal’s late penalty little more than meagre consolation.

Shankland remains curiously out of favour with Scotland but sent another reminder to manager Steve Clarke of his capabilities as he collected his fourth and then fifth goals in the last five games.

His first was a predatory poach, the striker fastening on to Frankie Kent’s header from a corner and ushering it past Kelly from close range. The delivery had come from the recalled Alex Lowry who looked lively throughout the contest after being ineligible for last weekend’s semi-final defeat to parent club, Rangers, demonstrating that he could yet become an important player for both Hearts and Naismith.

Shankland’s second goal after 71 minutes held greater aesthetic merit. Beni Baningime threaded a terrific ball through that Lowry cleverly dummied. Shankland was on the same wavelength, racing on to it, rounding Liam Kelly before finishing well.

The former Dundee United striker has his limitations but he again demonstrated that there are few better in the division at scoring both from short range and then with an impressive run and finish, even if Clarke clearly doesn’t think he is up to the standard required.

Motherwell were an abject lot but were handed a lifeline five minutes after Hearts’ second goal when Alex Cochrane was adjudged to have controlled a cross with his arm. Spittal slotted away the penalty but it only served to give the home supporters false hope, their team toiling to make any real headway over the remaining 17 minutes.

Hearts thought they should have had a penalty of their own in that same box not long after Shankland’s opener in the first half. Liam Boyce looked to be impeded by Dan Casey as he galloped into the Motherwell box and referee David Munro – who appeared to be of a mind to book Boyce for simulation – was summoned to have another look. The trend in that situation tends to see the referee going along with the VAR officials but Munro was unconvinced by the pictures and stuck with his original call.

A second appeal early in the second half – Shankland claimed he was fouled by Calum Slattery – again went to VAR but this time play was able to resume without Munro even being asked for his thoughts.

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Motherwell were offering very little as an attacking force but a glimmer of hope remained as long as they were only one goal down. Shankland’s second strike all but ended that prospect, making the penalty that followed relatively insignificant.

MOTHERWELL: Kelly 6; Casey 5, Butcher 6, Blaney 6; O’Donnell 6 (Gent 79, 3), Paton 6, Slattery 6 (Mugabi 90, n/a), Spittal 7; Wilkinson 5 (Obika 72, 3), Biereth 5 (Shaw 72, 3), Bair 4 (Spencer 46, 6)

HEARTS: Clark 6; Kingsley 6, Kent 7, Rowles 6; Forrest 6 (Sibbick 56, 5), Baningime 7,Nieuwenhof 6, Lowry 7 (Grant 75, 3), Cochrane 6; Shankland 7, Boyce 6 (Vargas 83, 3)

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