In gaining consecutive victories for the first time under Ian Cathro, Hearts by no means matched the performance of their 4-1 victory over Rangers in midweek, but as they had failed to record an away win since the last time they visited Fir Park in September, this was still a hugely important result.
Hearts were able to see the labour of the January transfer window bear fruit, as eight of the nine new arrivals played their part, including the three players added to the squad in the past seven days: Tasos Avlonitis, Alexandros Tziolis and Esmael Goncalves.
All three started, starred and, in the case of the latter two, even scored in Saturday’s 3-0 win.
Things were not as straight-forward as the scoreline might suggest. The game was finely poised eight minutes into the second half when Carl McHugh was shown a straight red card for a lunge on Hearts midfielder Don Cowie. The decision incensed Motherwell and would contribute to the home side’s defeat, as Tziolis was given too much space in the midfield to shoot and score after his effort deflected off Keith Lasley, before tiring Motherwell legs allowed Goncalves to net on the counter before the striker added a third a short time later.
“I couldn’t believe he sent him off,” said Motherwell striker Louis Moult. “I didn’t even think it was a foul. I was really surprised to see the red card. I think we were the better team at the time and we were going on to win it. It totally changed the game.”
Regardless of the manner in which victory was achieved, Hearts will look upon the result as the most important thing. It is a mindset the players will take into next week’s clash with Hibs.
After the Easter Road side’s Scottish Cup triumph last season – when they defeated Hearts on the way to winning the trophy – this match, which would already be viewed as the most important on the calendar, takes on extra significance.
Promisingly for the hosts, in new fans’ favourite Tziolis they have a man well accustomed to the intensity of derby matches. The 31-year-old, signed last Monday until the end of the season, starred for Panathinaikos in his native Greece for five years and played in his fair share of games against bitter rivals Olympiacos, a match dubbed the “derby of the eternal adversaries”.
Even still, his new supporters have already taken measures to make sure the Greek international understands the importance of Sunday’s game.
“I’d only been here three or four days and everyone was speaking to me and telling me how important the game is. I feel it, I feel it,” Tziolis said with a smile.
“To be honest, I don’t feel that much pressure. It’s more that I enjoy these games. These sorts of games are for players who want to show the quality they have. For me I look at it like this rather than the pressure.
“But it’s not only me, it’s the team. We have to concentrate 100 per cent and have a good game.”