Match Report: Hearts 2-0 Motherwell

17 February 2024

Hearts moved 14 points clear in third place with a dominant performance in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Motherwell.


Lawrence Shankland’s second-half header put the boys in maroon in front and the points were secured thanks to Kenneth Vargas’ late strike, in a match the Jambos controlled throughout.


Head Coach Steven Naismith made four changes from the side that cruised into the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup last weekend at Airdrie. Zander Clark came in for Craig Gordon, Kye Rowles slotted in for the injured Craig Halkett while Frankie Kent and Scott Fraser replaced Vargas and Jorge Grant.


The visitors were first to threaten inside three minutes following a neat one-two that sent Jack Vale into the box, but he flashed an effort wide of the target with no takers at the far post.


Minutes later Liam Kelly had to be alert when Paul McGinn headed Alex Cochrane’s free kick back towards his own goal, but the Motherwell captain sprung to tip the ball over his crossbar.


Clark echoed that feat just before the 20-minute mark, when Dan Casey’s looping shot from distance looked to be creeping in under the crossbar, but the backtracking Jambos keeper managed to push the ball over.


Hearts then dominated possession but a quick breakaway by the visitors presented Lennon Miller with a great chance when he latched on to a through ball but he snatched at it from outside the box, sending it well wide of Clark’s left-hand post.  


The Jambos made two changes at the break as Natty Atkinson and Vargas replaced Dexter Lembikisa and Beni Baningime, and although the visitors enjoyed their best period of the ball during the opening stages of the second half, it was Hearts who got a first real sight of goal when Alan Forrest cut inside from the left before drilling a shot on target, but it was well held Kelly.


The boys in maroon created another opportunity just before the hour mark. Calem Nieuwenhof clipped a ball to the back post for Shankland but he could only screw his half-volley wide of the target. Forrest did well to keep the ball in play and send it back towards Shankland, only this time he couldn’t make a connection.


Macaulay Tait and Yutaro Oda were then introduced and the latter nearly made an instant impact, lashing an effort into the side net from inside the box.


It took until the 67th minute but the deadlock was finally broken by who else thank Shankland. Forrest whipped a set piece into the box and the skipper ghosted in front of Bevis Mugabi to steer a header into Kelly’s bottom left corner.


Vargas was denied a stunning goal by the woodwork moments later. Atkinson chipped a ball into the box for the Costa Rican to volley first time but it flew past Kelly and off his right-hand post.


Soon after, Oda saw a low drive deflected inches wide as the Jam Tarts went in search of that killer second goal.


The game could’ve been wrapped up with ten minutes remaining. Shankland sent Vargas through, he middled for Forrest inside the box but his shot was blocked by Kelly.


The points were sealed two minutes into injury time. Vargas latched onto a loose ball inside the Motherwell box and leathered his shot beyond Kelly and into his bottom left corner.


A comfortable win for the Gorgie, an eighth on the bounce, to go unbeaten in 12 games and 14 points clear in third.


Hearts: Clark, Kent, Kingsley, Baningime (Vargas, 45’), Nieuwenhof (Devlin, 77’), Shankland ©, Rowles, Forrest, Cochrane (Oda, 59’), Fraser (Tait, 59’), Lembikisa (Atkinson, 45’). Subs: Gordon, Sibbick, Denholm.


Motherwell: Kelly ©, Gent (O’Donnell, 62’), Mugabi, Paton, Bair, Casey, McGinn, Zdravkovski (Ferrie, 79’), Devine, Vale (Obika, 79’), Miller (Nicholson, 73’). Subs: Oxborough, Blaney, Buyabu, Elliot, Wells.


Referee: Chris Graham