Heart of Midlothian 2-1 Motherwell
Hearts consolidated third position in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League in dramatic fashion here at Tynecastle tonight, where Ruben Palazuelos's 92nd-minute strike secured all three points from an extremely hard-fought fixture.
Second best in the first half, Csaba Laszlo's men came roaring out of the blocks after the interval and took the lead six minutes into the second period through Andrew Driver's fortuitous front post header. That was cancelled out fifteen minutes from time by a great Stephen Hughes strike, but with both sides going all out for the win in the closing stages, it was the home team who got the break when their Spanish midfielder's injury-time shot was deflected past the luckless Graeme Smith in the visitors' goal.
After an impeccably-observed minute's silence in memory of the late Andy Bowman, off we went with Hearts unchanged from the team that had started in Dundee on Saturday. That meant makeshift striker Adrian Mrowiec would continue to plough a lone furrow up front as his side attempted to disrupt the Steelmen's fine unbeaten run of nine games, a run that included a narrow victory against Hearts when the two teams last met on league business at Fir Park in January.
The confidence coursing through the visiting players was amply demonstrated in an opening 20 minutes completely dominated by the men in white, and it took only five minutes before they carved out their first half-chance of the game. Christos Karipidis appeared to misjudge the flight of the ball and allow Cillian Sheridan to get goal side. In acres of space at the left edge of the penalty area, the on-loan Celtic man should have done much better than drag his shot a yard wide of Janos Balogh's left-hand post.
The inside-left channel continued to prove a fruitful avenue for the visitors however. Two minutes later Stephen Hughes picked up a loose ball in midfield and threaded neatly through to the lively David Clarkson. The striker got to the byline easily enough but his low cross was cut out by Robbie Neilson, patrolling watchfully at the near post.
It was fully quarter of an hour before Hearts made their first positive contribution to the evening when Bruno Aguiar's half-hit left-footer was gathered easily by Smith inside his six-yard box. A couple of minutes later and the home side threatened again, this time from the left touchline where Lee Wallace embarked on an insistent, gambolling run before sliding a well-weighted pass inside Brian McLean to match Driver's willing run. Unfortunately the defender was sharp enough to slide the ball out of play for an ultimately fruitless corner.
The deadlock should have been broken midway through the half when Balogh punched unconvincingly at a cross from the Motherwell left, knocking the ball only as far a Hughes at the edge of the penalty area. The former Rangers man had time to steady himself before hitting a fierce, rising shot which cannoned back into play off the face of the Hungarian's crossbar.
That was a lucky escape, but there was little sign of the home side upping the pace as their opponents continued to call the shots in midfield, and with little sign that Mrowiec had the guile or energy to trouble the increasingly assured pairing of Mark Reynolds and Stephen Craigan at the heart of the visiting defence. That was an impression evidently shared by the occupants of the home dugout. It was just past the half-hour mark when Mrowiec was booked for a late challenge on the clearing Maros Klimpl. Two minutes later and the Pole found himself hooked to be replaced by Christian Nade.
Although the effect of the change was neither immediate nor particularly dramatic, it did lead to a steady and noticeable shift in the balance of possession in the final ten minutes of the half. Lee Wallace underlined the home side's new-found intent with a fierce 43rd-minute shot which was turned away low at the post by Smith. And Nade's ability to hold the ball up and link the play lent both his team-mates and the home support new vigour as Laszlo's men came racing out of the blocks at the start of the second period. Now with more purpose in their approach play, it wasn't too long before the men in maroon finally started to exert some pressure of their own.
More surprising was just how easily the Motherwell defence buckled under that pressure six minutes into the half. Neilson launched a trademark throw from the right-hand touchline towards the edge of the six-yard box, his intended target, Obua, ran under the ball, which then dropped invitingly for the unmarked Driver. The Englishman could scarcely believe his good fortune as he stooped to convert his second header in three weeks at the Gorgie end of the ground.
Mark McGhee's men responded furiously to the setback, but although they pinned Hearts back inside their own half for the next ten minutes or so, they rarely troubled the increasingly adventurous Balogh in the home side's goal. For their part Hearts remained dangerous on the break, and should really have tied things up midway through the half when Aguiar's accurate clearance invited Driver to test Stephen Craigan for pace. It was a test the Irishman failed, but having done well to get into a dangerous position, Driver could not pick a pass to the waiting David Obua in the centre. Instead he poked tamely into the side netting from a tight angle.
Craigan's evening ended ten minutes later when he had the misfortune to run into Christian Nade's shoulder and had to be carried from the field on a stretcher after prolonged and agitated treatment inside the centre circle. We wish him a speedy recovery from his injury.
Far from distracted by this unfortunate turn of events, however, it served only to make the visitors more determined to salvage something from the game. Sure enough from the free-kick awarded for Nade's challenge, they found themselves level. The high delivery into the area was again half-cleared only as far as Hughes at the edge of the box, and from an unlikely position left of centre he struck another lusty effort towards goal, which Balogh appeared to see late and could only push high into the corner of the net.
Neither side seemed willing to content themselves with a draw, however, and so we were treated to a rousing final fifteen that was short on craft and scoring chances, but full of effort and determination nonetheless. Just when it seemed that it would after all peter out into a deserved point apiece, though, another moment of slackness in the Motherwell defence changed the face of the game again.
Neilson again threw long and high into the box and again the delivery was met with a poor clearance, which this time fell for Palazuelos on the 18-yard line. The Spaniard's shot would not have troubled Smith under normal circumstances, but a wicked deflection took the ball spinning away from the already committed keeper and ensured the points would remain in Edinburgh.
Hearts: Balogh; Neilson, Karipidis, Jonsson, Wallace; Obua, Stewart, Palazuelos, Driver (Mikoliunas 90); Aguiar (Elliot 88), Mrowiec (Nade 33). Booked: Mrowiec. Subs not used: Kello, Cesnauskis, Thomson, Park.
Motherwell: G Smith; McLean, Reynolds, Craigan (D Smith 74), Hammell; Clarkson (McGarry 67), Klimpl, Hughes, O'Brien; Sheridan, Sutton. Booked: Klimpl. Subs not used: Krysiak, Malcolm, Murphy, Lasley, Aydilek.
Referee: Brian Winter
Top man: Another great team effort, but Christos Karipidis gets the nod for his cool assurance under pressure.
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