How battling Hearts overcame first-half red card to defeat Motherwell in game that had everything

Phew. Just phew. When people talk about breathless encounters, this is one that will come to mind.

Hearts striker Lawrence Shankland celebrates scoring his 89th minute penalty to seal a 3-2 win over Motherwell.  (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)
Hearts striker Lawrence Shankland celebrates scoring his 89th minute penalty to seal a 3-2 win over Motherwell. (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)

A match that ran six minutes into time added on, the fact that few punters had vacated the stands, tells its own tale. Admittedly, though, there were very few bums on seats by then, and those that were were perched on the edge.

Even behind the home dug-out, where the injured and unused Hearts players rose to their feet and roared every clearance, the anxiety was tangible.

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The home crowd erupted in the 89th minute when Lawrence Shankland cleanly converted a late spot kick. It was the goal needed to give Hearts the three points and catapult them up to fourth place. But as Motherwell threw everything at their depleted hosts, who lost Jorge Grant to a red card on 38 minutes for a sliding challenge on Callum Slattery, no-one could be sure of anything until the final whistle sounded.

It was a sore one for the visitors to take as they bounced back from a disappointing first period and took the game to Robbie Neilson’s men. But their frustrations will be aimed at themselves as they ultimately failed to make their extra man advantage count against a team that demonstrated fight, character and greater ability.

Having taken a 2-0 lead thanks to Andy Halliday goals either side of the interval, 10-man Hearts were pegged back. Those goals from Louis Moult and Blair Spittal came in the 61st and 79th minutes but Hearts refused to throw in the towel.

Add in VAR ups and downs, which saw teams celebrating goals that didn’t stand and penalties mixed in with that red card and there was plenty to engross those watching.

The chance to jump several places in the league standings seemed to particularly invigorate Hearts, who have set their sights on finishing third and booking a quick return to European football. The intensity of this one made it feel like it was a do or die cup tie or last gasp push at the end of the season rather than simply jostling for position a third of the way through the campaign.

Hearts made the better start and the only complaint they had up until Grant’s dismissal was the fact they had not converted their superior possession and chances. On another day, the sending off, which was upheld by VAR much to Hearts disgust, could have left them rueing that profligacy. But it didn’t as Halliday rose to head for the second week in a row before adding a sweet left foot strike two minutes after the break.

Motherwell retaliated in the 61st minute when referee Kevin Clancy and his video colleague awarded a penalty against Craig Gordon after he had brought down Moult. The striker scored it but Scotland’s No 1 was fortunate not to see his second yellow.

VAR then intervened when Kevin Van Veen’s effort was ruled offside but Spittal did level things. No-one was downing tools and settling for a draw, though.

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The visitors bombarded a weary home side, with the likes of Alex Cochrane, Toby Sibbick, Michael Smith and Gordon thwarting them. Then came the last hurrah as Cochrane burst forward and fired in a cross that came off the arm of Sondre Solholm and gave Shankland the opportunity to grab his 12th goal of the season and Hearts something to cling onto.

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