Hearts strikers have been engaged in extra shooting drills this week. While they again drew a blank here maybe they aren’t needed.
Not so long as Callum Paterson keeps bringing his shooting boots. The Hearts right-back could have had a second-half hat-trick last night. But he has to be more than content with the goal he did score.
His third of the season flew into the net beyond Craig Samson after 67 minutes. More impressively, it was hit with his less favoured left foot. Spectacular though it was, Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson appreciated the strike for what it seemed to have secured – three points.
Arnaud Djoum’s fine goal seven minutes before the end undoubtedly wrapped up the victory, although James McFadden’s free-kick in time added on conjured up memories of the magic he once provided on a semi-regular basis.
But Paterson’s explosive strike impacted more firmly on the outcome.
Motherwell had been coming ever nearer to equalising Sam Nicholson’s deflected opener right at the end of the first half before Paterson wrapped his left foot around the ball from 22 yards out.
He had earlier missed an easier chance after Jamie Walker’s cutback. He then shot rather tamely at Samson shortly after his wonder strike.
For a spell he terrorised the Motherwell rearguard. It’s not what you expect of a right-back but then Paterson is no ordinary right-back.
His threat is helping take the pressure off strikers Connor Sammon and Tony Watt, who did see a shot bash back off a post. Neither can be faulted for effort but both will have wanted more than a goal apiece by October.
But Hearts are thriving without tangible input by their forwards in the way of goals. The match was sponsored by Rentokil and Motherwell were snuffed out by an organised, effective Hearts side celebrating their first win at Fir Park since 2010.
The battle for second place was as fiercely contested as might have been expected; both teams were clearly motivated by the prospect of slipping in behind leaders Celtic – for a few hours at least.
This was the reward awaiting the winners, one accepted happily and easily enough by Hearts in the end. But prising apart two stuffy teams had earlier proved difficult. A keenly fought opening period contained precious few clear-cut opportunities in front of goal.
That was still the case at half-time – and yet Hearts were 1-0 up, Nicholson’s speculative shot having struck Motherwell defender Stephen McManus before inching past the stranded Samson.
The second half proved a lot livelier with chances at both ends. But Hearts goalkeeper Jack Hamilton remained a formidable bulwark until McFadden beat him from 20 yards at the end.
Of the paltry chances created in these opening 45 minutes the home side could claim to have come closest to opening the scoring when Craig Clay’s deflected shot was stopped at close range by Hamilton.
Hearts produced nothing quite as threatening and yet finished the half one goal to the good.
Motherwell had only themselves to blame for such a poor attempt to clear after a corner but Nicholson’s shot, from 25 yards, did not initially look like causing Samson too many problems. However, the ball deflected off luckless McManus who had stuck out his right foot and rolled gently past the wrong-footed Samson.
When referee Steven McLean blew his whistle for half-time moments later, Motherwell trudged off shaking their heads. It was the worst possible time to concede. Hearts did seem to feast on the lift it gave them following the break, scoring twice more.
Paterson’s rocket after 67 minutes deserved the plaudits but Djoum’s strike, placed carefully inside the far post from 16 yards, was also worth applause, as was McFadden’s curling free-kick in injury time.
But there were few home fans left inside the stadium by then to respond.