Hearts came out on top once again to safeguard their unbeaten start to the season and book their place in the semi-finals of the Betfred League Cup. But this time there could be no complaints from the losers as they were ultimately out-played and out-fought by a team who wanted the win even more than they did.
In the previous head to head, there was controversy surrounding Uche Ikpeazu’s challenge on Motherwell goalkeeper Trevor Carson in the build up to what turned out to be the winning goal. It led to the goalie carried of but he was back between the stick last night while the Hearts forward focalpoint has missed the two subsequent fixtures, including this one.
In his absence, and with fellow frontman Craig Wighton cup-tied, Hearts manager Craig Levein relied on the experienced duo of Steven Naismith and Steven MacLean
With both teams well aware of the prize at stake, this tie ignited immediately.
In the third minute, Olly Lee was able to deliver a corner and Main headed off the line from Naismith header as ball was heading for top corner. From the subsequent corner, Motherwell struggled to get it away and Chris Cadden had to head off the line from Souttar’s effort.
Three minutes later it was Liam Grimshaw threatening at the other end but his shot was narrowly wide. Ryan Bowman then tried to hit a first time effort but scuffed it..
But in the 10th minute the guests took the lead when Liam Donnelly headed onto Hearts’ Jimmy Dunne and Curtis Main leathered the spot kick past Zdenek Zlamal.
Motherwell were trying to turn the screw as Hearts battled to try and stabilise and get things back on an even keel.
Main was through in the 19th minute but he snatched at it and Zlamal gathered. But the home side were struggling to win second balls as the visitors dished out some solid and some wild challenges and refused to let their hosts settle.
Compelling, both side were giving their all to book the trip to Hampden. Hearts have not been there since losing the final of this contest in 2013,and although Stephen Robinson’s men provided the competition for Celtic in both domestic cup finals last term, the fact they left the national stadium without the silverware on both occasions meant they were nursing a degree of unfinished business.
As the game surged from one end of the pitch to the pother as the teams traded attacks with the same gusto heavyweights trade blows, Hearts’ Morrison wss proving dangerous as he jinked when he pushed it out to Michael Smith in the 32nd minute he whipped in a cross that just popped up over the bar from MacLean.
Straight up other end Main onto another long ball and tried to sneak it in the far top corner but Zlamal tipped it away and it was hoofed clear.
In the 35th minute the capital side restored parity. Arnaud Djoum chased down a loose ball and fed it to Morrison who drilled it in to Naismith at back post and he nods it it back across goal for MacLean to stab home.
Djoum then floated an effort over the bar and as Hearts sharpened up on their passing, slicing through the Well rearguard and Morrison grew in stature on the wing, Naismith headed over.
But the Fir Park men were a constant threat on the counter but as the second half progressed it was Hearts who began to gain more control and Morrison picked out Naismith from the right but Scotland forward couldn’t keep his heder low enough to test Carson.
They tried, tried and tried again to carve out the goal that would take them into the lead.but with crosses peppering the box, Naismith, Dunne and Peter Haring all sent headers wide of target.
The goal came in the 64th minute, as the ball was played into the middle and Dunne helped it across the goalmouth and Peter Haring slid in to make it. 2-1
In the 82nd minute Bowman ran onto a header and walloped an unstoppable shot into the top corner of Zlamal’s net to level things again. But with two minutes remaining, Lee buried his strike to score his fourth goal of the season and finally quash Motherwell hopes before Naimsith topped off proceedings with another strike in stoppage time.
Hearts: Zlamal, Smith, Souttar, Dunne, Mitchell, Morrison, Haring, Lee (Bozanic 90), Djoum, Morrison (Dikamona 85), Naismith, MacLean (Amankwaa 90). Unused subs: Doyle, Garuccio, McDonald, Mulraney.
Motherwell: Carson, Aldred, McHugh, Donnelly, Cadden, Grimshaw, Campbell (Johnson 74) Bigirimana (Frear 65), Tait, Bowman, Main. Unused subs: Gillespie, Taylor-Sinclair, Mbulu, Turnbull, Maguire.
Att: 14 377
Referee: W Collum