Steven Naismith is proving to be a huge tonic for Craig Levein in the wake of his recent heart scare. The Scotland striker is in a rich seam of scoring form for club and country and having sent his Gorgie boss the perfect get well gift, with his hat-trick against St Mirren prior to the international break, he intervened again at Fir Park yesterday to ease the strain on his manager’s ticker.
Levein was back at work this week but, worried about his energy levels and fearful of getting wrapped up in the touchline emotions, he opted to take in this match from the stands. It couldn’t have been an easy watch as his side looked to be the ones lacking a bit of oomph in the opening stages.
But where there is a will there’s a way and whether cruising to victory or grinding out this kind of result, Hearts are doing what no-one else in the league is and stringing win after win together.
That is now five on the bounce in a blemish-free start to the Premiership campaign, leaving them five points clear at the top of the table and the determination to build on that was evident.
Naismith is just one of those who took charge on a day when the ball took a pounding and finesse was in short supply. When Carl McHugh’s 29th minute passback was short, it was the Norwich City loan player who directed team-mate Uche Ikpeazu to close in on goalkeeper Trevor Carson and then pounced as the ball spun clear from their 50-50 thundering challenge.
Having claimed possession, he ignored the claret and amber around him as they tried to get back to the line and stroked his effort into the empty net.
It was a double blow for Stephen Robinson’s men, though, as the keeper writhed on the ground and had to be carried off with a suspected broken ankle and the club will now face an anxious wait for the outcome of x-rays and scans.
It made Ikpeazu the focus of the boo boys and earned him some extra attention from the Northern Irishman’s team-mates and an angry confrontation in the tunnel at full-time.
Motherwell sent on Mark Gillespie as a replacement and the sub keeper needed to make a couple of stops but it was game where defences dominated, as Hearts failed to put the game beyond doubt and Motherwell proved unable to find their way back into it.
Having taken the lead, that suited Hearts who had the assured Jimmy Dunne and John Souttar coping with anything the likes of Curtis Main could throw at them and while Motherwell enjoyed plenty of possession and forced Hearts deep at times, the young centre-back pairing repelled anything that came their way.
It was a tough afternoon for them, though, as Motherwell battled away, looking for their first home win in the league this season. Not that some of the fans appreciated the efforts. While the almost 3,000 travelling supporters gave voice to their dreams of winning the league, the home fans became embroiled in a verbal rammy with Well boss Robinson.
The home side tested their guests early on, with Main leathering a 30 yards shot which Zlamal had to get behind. Richard Tait then made progress down the flank but his close angled shot couldn’t beat the Gorgie keeper at the near post.
Hearts were struggling to get their influential midfield into the game, with long balls being lumped over them but when they did get the ball down, they were at their most effective and as Motherwell pressed to get into the game, they were able to find men on the flanks to counter-attack, especially when they gave Clevid Dikamona his debut, switching to three at the back and enabling their fullbacks to move upfield as another outlet.
But there was little between the teams other than that Naismith goal and the will to win that he epitomised in that moment.
At the final whistle the players applauded the fans and manager Levein appeared on the pitch. He is sticking to the old mantra of taking it one day at a time and so are the players. Thus far it is serving them well.