Hearts lost a tightly contested affair to Motherwell at Fir Park as the hosts ran out 2-1 winners thanks to David Turnbull’s late free-kick.
It was a cruel blow for the Jambos who had threatened to score the winner with late chances from Steven Naismith and John Souttar.
Craig Levein’s side dominated the early stages and had a penalty shout turned down in the opening minutes after a well worked set piece saw Jake Mulraney played into the box. Allan Campbell blocked off the winger’s run, colliding with the Irishman and leaving both in a heap in the box – play on, waved referee Nick Walsh.
Motherwell punished the Jambos in the thirteenth minute after a rare piece of slack play saw Curtis Main play in the on-form Jake Hastie. The winger was up to his usual tricks, cutting in onto his left foot and firing a powerful shot past Colin Doyle.
It took a while for Hearts to get back into the game as the Steelmen created a few more chances, with Hastie again going close.
Eventually, just before half-time, the visitors started to get back into it as Ollie Bozanic had a shot tipped past the post. From the resultant corner, Steven Naismith laid the ball back to Mulraney and the winger hit it with his weaker right-foot, only to have his goal-bound effort cleared away by Charles Dunne.
It turned out to be a warning shot as Naismith would equalise four minutes later. Sean Clare drove forward through the middle of the pitch, finding Uche Ikpeazu who crossed for Naismith. The striker fluffed his original effort but when it bobbled back up to him he stabbed it over the head of Gillespie and into the net for the equaliser.
And Sean Clare almost put the Jambos ahead before half-time, receiving the ball on the edge of the area and curling a shot just past the left-hand post.
‘Well started out the blocks a little quicker and January signing Gboly Ariyibi almost gave the hosts the lead. Breaking away from Conor Shaughnessy, the American powered into the box and struck towards goal, only to be denied by a fantastic save from Colin Doyle.
The Irishman was called into action again after Hastie robbed Mulraney of the ball in the Hearts area, turned onto his trusted left-foot and fired towards goal – but again, Doyle was equal to it.
The impressive David Turnbull was next to test Doyle as the Steelmen countered and Turnbull broke free on the right. The midfielder turned past his man and hit a rocket with his left from outside the area, with Doyle just tipping it over the bar.
The keeper was beaten by the resulting corner, but substitute Ben Garuccio came to his rescue, clearing the ball off the line.
Hearts were the next to go close in the game, which had become open and free-flowing with both teams creating chances. Bozanic swung a free-kick in, with Ikpeazu controlling before poking towards goal. Unfortunately for the Englishman, Gillespie was there to palm it past the post.
The corner wasn’t dealt with and came back to Bozanic, who crossed in once more. It was met by Berra who knocked it towards the back post for Naismith – but the striker hit it over the target from a narrow angle.
Hearts had one last chance to find the winner, through the unlikely source of John Souttar. Arnaud Djoum did brilliantly to find Ikpeazu who curled it to the back post. Souttar dived after it but his header went wide of the post.
Then, a minute of madness won it for Motherwell. Firstly, Garuccio was sent off for a challenge on Liam Grimshaw. Turnbull took the free-kick which bounced just in-front of Colin Doyle and it somehow evaded the keeper to bounce into the net.
It was sickening blow for the Jambos who couldn’t take advantage of the weekend’s earlier results to catch up with Kilmarnock and Aberdeen.
Hearts: Doyle, Souttar, Shaughnessy (Garuccio 59’), Berra ©, Godinho, Djoum, Bozanic, Mulraney (Dikamona 91’), Clare (Keena 79’), Naismith, Ikpeazu.
Subs: Zlamal, Lee, Garuccio, MacLean, Brandon, Dikamona, Keena.
Motherwell: Gillespie, Grimshaw, Aldred, Dunne, Tait ©, Turnbull, Campbell, Rodriguez (McHugh 68’), Ariyibi (Frear 64’), Hastie, Main (Scott 81’).
Subs: Ferguson, McHugh, Hartley, Frear, Donnelly, Johnson, Scott.