Stunning victory after spirited performance
Hearts got the better of Motherwell in a frenetic and thrilling encounter at Tynecastle which had everything you could hope for from a season opener. Saulius Mikoliunas was the hero in the end, netting a screamer shortly before the end.
The teams came out to a rapturous reception from both sets of fans ahead of this Clydesdale Bank Premier League opener. It was that time of the year where optimism was at its highest and where everyone believes that maybe just maybe this could be the season that their team wins the league. The rain had belted down all day in Edinburgh but the pitch was in perfect condition and the water on the surface made for a fast paced match.
Hearts flew out of the traps and inside two minutes Larryea Kingston had created a great chance for himself in the centre of the park and has he bore down on goal the chance was on to thread the ball through to Driver on the wing but instead the Ghanaian International had a pop himself which flew over the bar.
Csasba Laszlo's side had looked well organised against Hull on Sunday with many players showing the benefits of a gruelling pre-season. The goalscorer from that match almost opened the scoring on eight minutes. Ksanavicius refused to let the Motherwell defence get a minute to clear the ball just outside their own box and through sheer persistence the ball broke neatly for him he took a couple of steps into the penalty box and drove a shot low which The Motherwell keeper Smith managed to save.
Hearts looked like they could create chances just form sheer determination to win the ball from Motherwell and punishing any minor mistakes. Jamie Mole and Michael Stewart in particular chased every ball down even if it looked to be a lost cause.
It was that determination that drove Hearts on and led to the opening goal. Great link up play between Ksanavicius and Driver paved the way for Michael Stewart who motored right through the heart of Motherwell's defence and then calmly zipped the ball past Graeme Smith in the Motherwell goal.
It was frantic stuff at Tynecastle and you just knew that would not be the only goal of the match and sure enough Motherwell had pulled one back in under 10 minutes. Motherwell exploited space on the right and McGarry played in an inviting shot, which David Clarkson merely had to tap in from close range.
What a game it was. For every shot Hearts had, Motherwell had one in return. The star for Hearts though was Ksanavicius who was involve din everything and he got his and Hears reward on 38 minutes when a short header from Craigan back to his own keeper was poached by Ksanavicius who managed to nick the ball underneath Smith to restore the lead. Shammy was injured for his efforts but after some treatment returned unscathed to the fray.
After such a fast paced first half you could have been forgiven for thinking that the tempo would slip slightly in the second but this was not the case for either team. The work rate from Hearts was remarkable.
The Jambos again got the better of the first 15 minutes and arguably Andrew Driver had the chance of game when he raced into acres of space but couldn't manage to find the net or either of the Hearts players in the box. He more than made up for it though with other chances he created in the half.
The next wave of attack for Hearts came from a corner which was played out to Stewart who was waiting in a great position at the edge of the box as the ball came in Stewart volleyed it towards goal and forced Smith to punch it back towards the outside of the box and this time Marius Zaliukas, who had previously tried to get in on the action, also volleyed at Graeme Smith. The shot had a lot more power and pace but Smith managed to save.
Motherwell were never out if though and always posed a threat. That threat became goal number two after 81 minutes when David Clarkson exploited a mistake by Hearts and rattled the ball low past Steve Banks. The Hearts team were visibly gutted to loose their lead but where in previous the heads may have gone down instead the focus and discipline that Laszlo had been raving about kicked in.
From the re-start Hearts had one thing in mind and that was goal. Mikoliunas went into overdrive and raced down the right and just when you though he would play the ball into the box he served up a Mikoliunas special and belted the ball into the Motherwell net. Smith was helpless and as Mikoliunas raced past the entire Wheatfield stand in celebration the whole Hearts dugout ran to the pitch, it was as if Hearts had won a trophy! For the first time in the match Laszlo was jubilant as were all the players both on and off the field.
The remainder of the match seemed to take an eternity. Motherwell were awarded a free kick and in a bizarre incident Paul Quinn jumped up and down in front Steve Banks whilst he assembled the wall. It seemed to take forever and Hammell eventually took the kick, which went well wide.
When the final whistle blew and the entire stadium was ecstatic. The passion that the Hearts fans had been so desperate to see was clearly there and there was a lot to be optimistic about. With win number one under the belt Hearts joined Rangers and Inverness at the top of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League and officially got the season off to a flyer. Yes!
Hearts: Banks; Thomson, Zaliukas, Berra, Wallace; Kingston (Mikoliunas 77), Karipidis, Stewart, Driver (Cesnauskis 68); Ksanavicius (Makela 71); Mole. Subs not used: MacDonald, Nade, Jonsson, Rapnik.
Motherwell: Smith; Quinn, Reynolds, Craigan, Hammell; Lasley (O'Brien 78), Malcolm (Fitzpatrick 53), Hughes; Clarkson, Porter, McGarry (Smith 74). Subs not used: Neilson,Murphy, Connolly, Slane.
Referee: Ian Brines
Top man: Michael Stewart