Kyle Lafferty’s tenth goal of the season was enough to secure Hearts a win following a strong and committed display against a powerful Motherwell outfit.
The Northern Irishman showed some great strength to win the ball from Cedric Kipre on the Roseburn byline, moved the ball onto his left foot and slammed the ball beyond Russell Griffiths.
Craig Levein made four changes to the side that battled to a 1-1 draw in last week’s combative match with Hamilton Accies. Kyle Lafferty returned to the starting line-up after two matches on the bench following a bout of illness, while there were also places for Connor Randall, Don Cowie and Lewis Moore.
The hosts were heartened by the pre-match news that Motherwell’s top scorer Louis Moult would be missing from their side, along with goalkeeper Trevor Carson and centre-half Peter Hartley.
Hearts were on the front foot early on, with Jamie Walker seeing plenty of the ball and it was he who had the first attempt on goal, but his shot from outside the area deflected off Don Cowie and went out for a goal-kick.
The match settled into something of a war of attrition in the first part of the half, with neither side able to create any clear-cut chances. Kyle Lafferty had two attempts at scoring following a corner but, after his initial effort was blocked, he dragged the second effort wide.
Lewis Moore’s workmate and endeavour was impressing the crowd and he almost opened his Hearts account in spectacular fashion. Connor Randall played an excellent diagonal ball cross-field and Moore met it with a volley inside the area, but his fine effort was just over the bar.
Hearts did open the scoring on 39 minutes, however. With some excellent ball-winning in midfield, the ball broke to Cowie who slipped in Lafferty. Although he wasn’t favourite to win the ball, some strong play won the ball from Cedric Kipre, he cut inside onto his left foot and buried it for his tenth of the season.
Motherwell began to threaten in the second period, and substitute Craig Tanner brought a pair of saves out of Jon McLaughlin. First, his header from a cross on the right was held, before a dangerous free-kick took a deflection that the keeper had to look sharp to respond to.
Michael Smith then tried his luck from outside the area after a neat bit of skill bought him some space, but his curled effort betrayed his defensive status. Kipre of Motherwell, another defender, nearly showed him how it was done, but his fiercely struck shot whistled just over the bar.
Cowie almost got in on a breakaway as Hearts attempted to play on the counter-attack, but he was crudely taken out by Richard Tait on the halfway line when attempting to run through on goal.
Despite the expected aerial barrage from the Steelmen towards the end, the Jambos lead was never seriously in danger after a commanding display from Christophe Berra and John Souttar, aided by man of the match performances from Connor Randall and Prince Buaben, as Hearts now look ahead to welcoming Dundee on Tuesday.
Hearts: McLaughlin, M.Smith, Souttar, Berra, Walker (Milinkovic, 22' - Stockton, 88'), Buaben, Lafferty, Djoum (Callachan, 64'), Cowie, Randall, Moore. Subs: Hamilton, Grzelak, Cochrane, Isma.
Motherwell: Griffiths, Tait, Cadden (Bigirimana, 37'), McHugh, Frear, Bowman, Rose (Petravicius, 62'), Fisher (Tanner, 46'), Dunne, Kipre, Campbell. Subs: Hammell, Grimshaw, MacLean, Livingstone.
Referee: Andrew Dallas