A week’s a long time in football, so are sixty seconds. One minute Hearts were contemplating what would have been a satisfactory point at in-form Motherwell, the next - literally –they were down to ten men and trailing 2-1. There was next to no time left to rectify this sudden reversal in fortunes.
Motherwell, meanwhile, were celebrating a sixth successive too-flight victory for just the second time since the 1930s. This was secured by goals from two 19-year-olds. Stephen Robinson’s side have forgotten how not to win. Even when it seems beyond Motherwell, they are emerging with three points. It’s easier, certainly, when the opposition are in the business of self-sabotage. A few crazy moments during stoppage time saw Hearts – or more accurately goalkeeper Colin Doyle – allow a point to slip through their fingers. The Irish goalkeeper had an accomplice in Ben Garuccio, whose concession of a free-kick proved far more damaging for Hearts than the red card he also collected for scything down Liam Grimshaw.
For the first time since he arrived on loan in the middle of last season, Steven Naismith scored and Hearts lost. Motherwell took the lead with a sublime effort - yes, another one - from Jake Hastie. It was a near replica to the solo goal he scored against St Mirren on his previous outing. He has now scored five goals in the last six appearances as he continues establishing his credentials as yet another Motherwell prospect.
David Turnbull took one sponsor’s man of the match award, Hastie the other. Turnbull’s award was announced over the Tannoy before he stepped up to secure the points for his side with a free-kick that was awarded after Garuccio’s reckless challenge on Grimshaw. These are promising times again at Fir Park, with Motherwell finishing the match with four of their academy graduates on the pitch. But this win was sourced from Hearts mistakes as much as from teenage inspiration.
Had Garuccio not flown into an ill-advised challenge on Grimshaw then Doyle would not have had to face a late free-kick. But then the goalkeeper already had cause to be grateful to the defender, who replaced Conor Shaughnessy after 60 minutes in what was an eventful cameo. Garuccio was in the right place at the right time to clear Curtis Main’s header off the line four minutes after entering the fray. But his instincts let him down when up-ending Grimshaw as he shaped to shoot a long way from goal. The free-kick allowed the shooting opportunity to transfer to Turnbull, about 25 yards out.
Like Hastie, we know he can hit a ball – we have already seen evidence of that. But this was not one of his more wicked, testing deliveries. The shot was curling, the wind was up, the sun was bright. Nevertheless, Doyle knows he should have gathered it.
Hastie’s earlier goal was another one to cherish but stemmed from a Hearts player, Uche Ikpeazu, inadvertently poking the ball into the danger area after winning a challenge in midfield. Main then fed Hastie, who drifted in from the right flank before unleashing an unstoppable shot into the top corner of Doyle’s goal with his left foot.
Naismith equalised 25 minutes later. The Scotland striker showed why he’s the player opposition supporters love to hate. The home fans cheered when he swung his left boot and missed Ikpeazu’s cutback but were left with egg on their faces when he simply popped the ball over Mark Gillespie with his right. It’s fair to say he enjoyed the celebrations.
The sun emerged to cause Hearts some problems in the second-half. Doyle might have done with a cap - he had clearly forgotten one. It was Motherwell in February, the Irishman could be forgiven that. But he had to resort to shielding his eyes with his hand as Motherwell surged forward. Hearts are rightly making their name as a set-piece experts but this was an oversight when it comes to preparing for all eventualities.
Doyle could point out that the absence of headgear certainly did not hinder him. He made as many as three impressive stops, including when tipping Turnbull’s fierce shot over after 63 minutes.
So, when he fumbled so disastrously, it would have been hard to start blaming the sun, particularly since Turnbull’s free-kick was fairly low by the time it reached Doyle, and required him only to get something behind it. Jake Mulraney had earlier demonstrated how the sun could be problematic when losing a long thump forward in the air and allowing Turnbull in to shoot. Doyle saved well again.
The Irish goalkeeper took full responsibility for his later error and held up a glove to those away fans who hadn’t already left the premises in disgust at the end.
Hearts were shattered to be left with nothing for their efforts. Even Craig Levein’s substitutions at 1-1 seemed designed to secure a win. He replaced Sean Clare with a striker, Aidan Keena, with ten minutes left. He had already switched from a back three to a back four. Naismith might have put Hearts in control but skied a chance after Oliver Bozanic’s cross was allowed to travel through to him at the back post.