Heart of Midlothian 0-1 Motherwell
Hearts suffered a cruel 1-0 defeat at home to Motherwell on Saturday despite a slick second half performance.
The Steelmen took the lead in the first half through a well-worked John Sutton goal, and although the Jambos were the superior side in the second period, there was to be no comeback for Gary Locke's side.
The recent injury crisis at the club showed no sign of ending prior to this match, with Danny Wilson a casualty for the third game on the bounce due to tonsillitis. Callum Tapping was laid low with a bug and dropped to the bench along with Jamie Walker, which meant starting berths for Jamie Hamill and Dale Carrick.
Jamie MacDonald was called into action only two minutes in to save Jordan McGhee's blushes. James McFadden drilled a low ball across the face of goal from the left-hand side but McGhee's attempted clearance was sliced and flew back towards the goal-line, however MacDonald flung himself across his line to palm the ball away to safety.
Both teams battled hard towards each other's goal, with half chances aplenty for either side. Motherwell came closest to breaking the deadlock in the 28th minute when Lionel Ainsworth weaved through the middle of the park and hit a thunderbolt shot from 30 yards, but his effort zipped over the bar.
It was Ainsworth who again went close five minutes later with a stunning powerful, angled shot from the edge of the box, but MacDonald pulled off another smart save to steer the ball away from goal.
Though Hearts looked comfortable on the ball and enjoyed venturing into the opposition's final third, the visitors made the breakthrough on 39 minutes. John Sutton raced forward and latched onto a through ball, and despite being forced wide after taking it away from MacDonald, the big hitman slid the ball past two white shirts and home from the tightest of angles.
The away side were once again thwarted by MacDonald six minutes after the restart. Iain Vigurs played a delightful ball down the channel from inside his own half, but the Hearts no. 1 was quick off his line to block from Ainsworth's shot after running through on goal.
The Jambos responded and hit the woodwork. Ryan Stevenson ran the to Wheatfield Stand touchline deep inside the Motherwell half and hit a huge looping cross into the box which carried all the way over Gunnar Neilsen in goals and off the crossbar.
A minute later David Smith tried his luck from distance and his 30 yard drive stung the hands of Neilsen before being cleared out of the box.
By the hour mark, Hearts were dominating proceedings. Stevenson forced Neilsen to tip over the bar from 25 yards, and from the resultant corner substitute Jamie Walker lashed an effort inches over from the edge of the box.
Mothewell reminded the home crowd just how dangerous they could be in the 76th minute when Henri Anier burst through the Hearts defence and cut inside into the box, but MacDonald was on hand to once again deny the Steelmen.
Another superb save from MacDonald, this time at point blank range from a Sutton shot from the six yard box, meant that Hearts were still in the game with five minutes remaining.
Hearts were handed a golden opportunity to salvage a point when Stevenson's cross fell to Hamill inside the box, but the midfielder couldn't get the ball out from underneath his feet before stabbing the ball goalward, only to see his effort blocked.
The match finished 1-0 to the visitors and Hearts will feel extremely hard done by to not take something from the game, especially after having a late penalty claim turned down.
Hearts: MacDonald; McGhee, McKay, McGowan, McHattie (Walker, 52'); Paterson, Hamill, Robinson, Smith (B. King, 79'); Carrick (Nicholson, 72'), Stevenson; Subs: Hamilton, A. King, Tapping, Oliver.
Motherwell: Nielsen, Hamell, Ramsden, Hutchinson, McManus, McFadden (Anier, 72'), Sutton, Vigurs (Lawson, 83'), Lasley, Carswell, Ainsworth (Francis-Angol, 72'). Subs: Stewart, McHugh, Moore, Murray.
Referee: Willie Collum
Top man: Scott Robinson