Hearts returned to winning ways in style after a thumping 3-1 victory away to Motherwell.
The Jambos’ first Friday night fixture of the season was a memorable one lit up by a Stephen McManus own goal and long range strikes from Callum Paterson and Arnaud Djoum.
James McFadden netted a spectacular consolation goal for the home side in injury time, but it was too little too late by then.
Robbie Neilson made one change from the side that was held at home by Ross County last week. Don Cowie missed out through injury and was replaced by Jamie Walker.
Hearts started brightly and passed the ball around well. A lung-bursting run from Callum Paterson saw him feed Tony Watt in the box, but as he twisted and turned to play in Conor Sammon, the Irishman was flagged for offside.
The hosts had a chance after 11 minutes. Steven Hamell’s free-kick was floated into the box and Ben Heneghan dropped inches wide of Jack Hamilton’s right-hand post.
The Jambos had Hamilton to thank for keeping the scores level at 20 minutes. A ball into the box was knocked down to Craig Clay, whose low drive was blocked by the Hearts ‘keeper’s stunning right-hand save and the follow up was blasted over the bar.
A game of few chances was nearly sparked into life courtesy of Walker. Perry Kitchen’s defence-splitting pass saw the winger through on goal but as he skipped away from a lunging Motherwell shirt he could only overrun it and the angle for a shot disappeared.
Scott McDonald forced a smart block from Hamilton at his near post as the half drew to a close, with neither side really stamping their authority onto the game.
Before the half was out Walker’s cross from the left narrowly missed Conor Sammon inside the six-yard box and was turned into his own goalkeeper’s path by Heneghan.
Bang on half time, and with it looking like a stalemate going into the break, Hearts broke the deadlock. Nicholson’s free-kick from outside the box eventually found its way back into the winger’s path – having moved into a central position – and his low drive from 25-yards out was deflected via Steven McManus beyond Craig Samson and into the corner of the net.
Six minutes into the restart Walker went agonisingly close to doubling Hearts’ lead. He carried possession forward before unleashing a thunderbolt from 25-yards that was deflected inches wide of Samson’s left-hand post.
Motherwell did have the ball in the back of the net moments later but McDonald was flagged for offside. The Aussie then followed that up with an effort from outside the box but he ballooned the ball over the bar.
Samson then denied Walker, getting down quickly to make a stop at his right-hand post after the no.7 had been teed up by Faycal Rherras down the left.
Hearts broke quickly down the right on the hour mark through Nicholson, who got a ball into the box at the second attempt but Paterson scooped his effort high over the crossbar.
Watt really did deserve a goal after spinning away from Hammell and driving into the box, holding off challenges to create space for himself to ping an effort on target but he was denied by a brilliant McManus block.
A minute later the ball was cutback to Walker inside the box but he swiped and mishit his shot. That mattered not a jot as Paterson then bagged Hearts’ second goal of the game with an absolute screamer. The ball broke to the right-back on the edge of the box and he slammed an unstoppable left-foot drive into Samson’s top corner.
Paterson was in the mix again in the 72nd minute, meeting Kitchen’s cross with a bicycle kick, however he could only fire it straight at Samson.
Motherwell were still proving a danger at the other end, and livewire striker McDonald curled an effort around Hamilton but round the post too.
It was nearly 3-0 with ten minutes remaining. Watt jinked away and drilled an effort which cracked the post before hitting Samson and spinning up into the air, only for the Motherwell ‘keeper to claw it away.
Three minutes later it was game over and it was another special goal. A corner from the right found Djoum at the edge of the box and he rifled it into the top left corner, leaving Samson with no chance.
With the last kick of the game, James McFadden found the top corner with a delightful free kick to give the hosts a consolation, but it was Hearts who headed to second place in the Ladbrokes Premiership table.
Motherwell: Samson, Tait, Hammell, Heneghan, McManus, Moult, Bowman (McFadden, 70'), Cadden (Lucas, 25'), Lasley (Ainsworth, 70'), Clay, McDonald. Subs: Brill, Thomas, Ferguson, McMillan.
Hearts: Hamilton, Paterson, Souttar, Rossi, Rherras, Nicholson (Buaben, 80'), Djoum, Kitchen, Walker (Muirhead, 82'), Watt, Sammon (Johnsen, 68'). Subs: Noring, Ozturk, Nowak, Currie.
Referee: Steven MacLean
Top man: Callum Paterson