A seemingly ordinary Premiership fixture would herald a truly extraordinary result…
Saturday, January 16th saw Hearts and Motherwell face off for the third time in season 2015/16.
The Jambos were flying high in the league – 3rd and six points behind Aberdeen – following a stunning promotion back to the top flight.
And speaking of Aberdeen, the men in maroon headed into this match off the back of a tremendous Scottish Cup victory, eliminating Derek McInnes’ side the week previously at Tynecastle.
Motherwell were on a decent run of form too. Following a 2-2 draw with Robbie Neilson’s side in November, they had gone on to win four games out of five, drawing the other one.
The previous encounters between the two sides saw a comfortable 3-0 Hearts win in Gorgie, and an Osman Sow wonderstrike securing a share of the spoils in a 2-2 Fir Park draw.
Head coach Robbie Neilson was typically cagey before the match but felt the aforementioned win over Aberdeen could see his side with the momentum.
“The boys are in good spirits after Saturday’s win,” he said. “We were in again first thing on Sunday to watch the video and they were all really pleased with how they performed. Hopefully we can use that performance as benchmark for the rest of the season.”
“They’re a totally different team from the one we faced at Tynecastle in August. Mark has come in and changed their style a bit and they’ve got some players back from injury, which has boosted them.
“It’ll be a tough game and you could argue we’ll be up against the in-form team in Scotland at the moment.”
Hearts: Alexander, Paterson, Ozturk, Augustyn, Rossi (McGhee, 83'), King, Pallardo, Djoum, Buaben, Reilly (Zanatta, 69'), Sow (Juanma, 64'). Subs: Hamilton, Oshaniwa, Swanson, Buchanan.
Motherwell: Ripley, Hammell, McManus, Ainsworth (Thomas, 68'), Pearson, Johnson, Chalmers, Law (Clarkson, 82'), Moult (Fletcher, 68') Hall, McDonald. Subs: Samson, Laing, McFadden, Cadden.
Referee: Kevin Clancy
Robbie Neilson made only one change from the side that knocked Aberdeen out of the Scottish Cup last week; Billy King replaced the injured Sam Nicholson.
Hearts started brightly and went close after only three minutes. Prince Buaben’s pass from the edge of the box found Paterson 20-yards out, and his lashed effort flew inches wide of Connor Ripley’s left-hand post.
After 11 minutes it was 1-0 Hearts. Billy King’s low corner was met Rossi, who flicked a header backwards and over Ripley, and though it was cleared by a Motherwell defender the linesman signaled the ball had crossed the line, giving the Jambos the lead.
Neil Alexander was called into action a few minutes later after Scott McDonald took down a diagonal ball into the box, but his low drive was easily stopped by the Jam Tarts no. 1.
Immediately after that, Hearts doubled their lead. Arnaud Djoum showed great strength the win the ball in the middle of the park before feeding the Sow, who took two touches and drilled low from 20-yards past the diving Ripley and into the bottom corner of the net.
Paterson enjoyed a barnstorming start to the game, and in the 19th minute burst forward into the box before firing low across the face of goal, but there were no maroon shirts there to get on the end of it.
By the 21st minute it was threatening to become a rout. Reilly took the ball around Ripley inside the box but was brought down by the Motherwell ‘keeper, and the striker dusted himself down to send him the wrong way from the spot.
The visitors showed sparks of danger as the half went on, with the unmarked Marvin Johnson receiving the ball at the edge of the box, but he slipped as he shot and ballooned over the bar.
Hearts thought it was 4-0 just after the half hour mark, only to be denied by the linesman’s flag. Rossi’s ball into the box was flicked on by Reilly and into the path of Sow, but although the big Swede knocked under Ripley and over the line, he was flagged for offside.
Buaben was causing untold problems for Motherwell out on the left wing, and before the half was out he unleashed a rocket shot from 30-yards which Ripley did well to stop and collect at the second attempt.
The second half failed to live up to the intensity of the first. The closest either side went after 63 minutes was Stephen Pearson failing to guide a low cross on target from inside the six-yard box.
Motherwell should’ve pulled a goal back in the 71st minute when Marvin Johnson skinned his man and floated over a ball to the back door, but McDonald could only head behind at the back post when the goal was at his mercy.
The men in maroon showed pace on the break with substitute Juanma dancing past two players before letting Paterson take over, but his low ball across the face of goal was smothered by Ripley, when King was lingering at the back post.
Hearts had Alexander to thank for keeping the score 3-0 at 74 minutes. Blazej Augustyn lost possession to Wes Fletcher, who ran through on goal but under heavy pressure from Miguel Pallardo, saw his low shot touched wide by the Hearts ‘keeper.
Three minutes later it was 4-0. Alim Ozturk showed great skill at the edge of the box to send a low ball in to substitute Dario Zanatta, who teed up Paterson to drill low beyond Ripley.
There was enough time for Hearts to bag a fifth goal. Djoum passed in to Juanma, who turned inside the box and slammed home from around eight yards.
Incredibly, it was 6-0 in the 90th minute. Djoum skipped around two Motherwell defenders before being hauled down, and he made no mistake from the spot, firing high into the roof of the net.
An emphatic win for the Gorgie boys, who consolidate third place and move onto 40 points in the Ladbrokes Premiership.
The win closed the gap on Aberdeen to three points, and although Hearts wouldn’t overtake the Dons, they finished a very respectable third place in their first season back in the Premiership and secured European football.
Motherwell’s results nosedived following their Tynecastle horror show, losing five out of their next six and drawing the other. It would be exactly one month later when they would pick up another three points before finishing the season in fifth.
What they said
Robbie Neilson: The most pleasing thing was that it came off the back of the Aberdeen game. We had to start of the front foot and pick up where we left off, and that attitude is what won us the game today, I felt.
The first twenty minutes were outstanding, and if we see it out, the game’s dead. However, there’s always the concern is if they get a goal they have something to chase, so we had to get the first goal to kill them off.
We’re not getting carried away with the result, we never do. It was a great win but it’s over, and I’m focusing entirely on the Hamilton game.
Gavin Reilly: We came out the traps flying from kick-off. Three goals in the first twenty minutes won us the game, so you can’t ask for more. We didn’t even sit back in the second half.
We went out and killed the game off properly and professionally. To score six goals with six different scorers shows our quality all over the park. Hearts is a great place to be right now.
Arnaud Djoum: It was a great performance. We were continuing the same level we reached against Aberdeen. We have the quality here, for sure.
I think everybody is happy to score goals. Even though it was a penalty, I was happy to score, that’s why I wanted to take it. I want to score in every game.
That was the first penalty I’ve taken. But it was 5-0, you know? It’s easier to take a penalty in that situation. I wasn’t going to let anyone else take it.
Kenny MacDonald (The Sun): The Tynecastle PA blasted out ‘Heroes’ before the game – and Hearts were Starmen as they closed the gap on Aberdeen to three points.
The Jambos have now lost just one of their last 11 games and they were the Young Dudes to leave Well looking like Absolute Beginners.
Strikes from Igor Rossi, Osman Sow and Gavin Reilly in a blistering opening 21 minutes put them in easy street and second-half strikes from Callum Patterson, Juanma and Arnaud Djoum hinted that the Golden Years could be on the way back in Gorgie.
The visitors’ six-game unbeaten run came to a shuddering halt as they were bullied and dominated all over the park by a relentless Hearts side to give boss Mark McGhee a nightmare 900th game as a manager.
The home side ran up their biggest win of the season and could’ve scored more in a highly one-sided encounter.
Tom English (BBC): Three goals in the opening 21 minutes - and three more late on - saw Hearts obliterate previously in-form Motherwell at Tynecastle.
Mark McGhee had spoken of Hearts' robustness during the week but how the Motherwell manager must have longed for some of the qualities of the hosts - the power, the pace, precision, the appetite for work, the desperate hunger for goals.
Motherwell were in a state of befuddlement. Their midfield was bossed, their defence was susceptible to Hearts' cleverness in attack. What is impressive about Neilson's side is, of course, their commitment and power and all those other things that some other players, and managers, seem to have a problem with.
But it's a one-dimensional and pretty daft analysis. There's a whole lot more to them than grunt.
Hearts' work rate is high and their ability to get men forward at pace is hard to cope with at times. The swiftness of their movement in the final third can be terrific. The pressure they apply and their capacity to execute makes them a handful when they're at their best.
To watch all the buildup, highlights and reaction on HeartsTV click here.