Motherwell 1-2 Heart of Midlothian
Friday 16th August 2019, KO 19:45 | Betfred Cup | Fir Park
Hearts qualified for the quarter-finals of the Betfred Cup after a superb display against Motherwell at a drenched Fir Park.
After a difficult week following the Jam Tarts showed their mettle and deservedly beat the Steelmen 2-1 thanks to first-half goals from Northern Irish duo Michael Smith and Conor Washington.
Craig Levein made four changes to the side that drew 0-0 with Ross County last weekend. Joel Pereira, signed on loan this week from Manchester United, replaced Bobby Zlamal in goals while there were also returns to the side for Aaron Hickey, Jake Mulraney and Andy Irving, while Glenn Whelan took his place on the bench after signing a one-year deal with the club.
The Jambos began brightly and were rewarded for it when, after a corner, Conor Washington flicked the ball up off the outstretched hand of a Motherwell defender. Sean Clare stepped up, but his spot kick rebounded off the post.
The hosts had their best chance of the match midway through the first half when Richard Tait got to the byline and cut the ball back to Jermain Hylton, whose shot was eventually gathered by Pereira after some static defending.
At the other end, Jake Mulraney then made his way towards goal and hit an effort that deflected off Declan Gallagher, almost wrong footing Mark Gillespie in goals, but the keeper pushed the ball to safety.
Craig Halkett then embarked on a lung-busting run from the centre of defence, deep into the Motherwell half, before sliding the ball through to Washington. His square ball looked certain to reach Jamie Walker, but a brilliant last-ditch challenge from Charles Dunne saw the ball cleared at the vital moment.
Hearts took a deserved lead on 40 minutes. Washington made space for himself on the left wing and carried the ball into midfield where he played the ball cross-field to Michael Smith. The full-back cut inside off the wing and unleashed an unstoppable shot into the bottom right-hand corner from around 25 yards to send the away end into raptures.
The Jambos then had the chance to double their lead with a second penalty of the half. A stunning pass down the right wing from Smith saw Mulraney get to the ball ahead of Gillespie and the keeper clattered into the Irish winger. This time, Hearts would not miss as Washington capped a superb first-half by sending Gillespie the wrong way from the spot.
Into the second half and the hosts got back into the match on the hour mark. Loic Damour was robbed in the middle of the park and the ball found its way to Liam Polworth, who drove at the Hearts defence and slipped it through to sub Christopher Long who finished well beyond Pereira to reduce the deficit.
The home side were beginning to dominate proceedings now and a sharp save from Pereira at his near post prevented a near catastrophe after Washington deflected a free-kick goalwards. The Portuguese stopper was alert and did brilliantly to push the ball round the post.
With 3 minutes left, the Jambos should have had the match dead and buried when sub Aidy White collected a Washington pass and dribbled at the Motherwell defence before firing a shot at Gillespie that was superbly saved by the keeper’s feet.
As time ran down the Jambos held firm thanks to their colossal centre-half duo of Halkett and Christophe Berra, who headed everything Motherwell had to offer.
Motherwell: Gillespie, Tait, Grimshaw, Campbell (Ilic, 78'), Seedrof, Hylton (Cole, 46'), Scott (Long, 46'), Dunne, Polworth, Donnelly, Gallagher. Subs: Carson, Maguire, Livingstone, Semple.
Hearts: Pereira, M. Smith, Berra, Clare (Bozanic, 88'), Washingston, Walker (MacLean, 38'), Mulraney (White, 83'), Damour, Halkett, Irving, Hickey. Subs: Doyle, Whelan, Ikpeazu, Dikamona.
Referee: Bobby Madden