Hearts head into the international break on a four game losing run after failing to match up to a resilient Motherwell who deservedly left Tynecastle with all three points.
The Jambos were ultimately undone by a first half performance where a clear contrast in styles saw the visitors get the better of the physical battle and pick their spots far more effectively. Steven Naismith was desperate for his players to move the ball quickly and play early balls while Well’ gaffer Stuart Kettlwell urged patience and for his boys to maintain their composure and that was what proved the difference.
The second half was all about Hearts but with a lead to defend and then going down to ten men on the 70th minute, the Steelmen shut up shop and guarded their advantage manfully. With two weeks to go before Aberdeen visit Gorgie, there is plenty for Steven Naismith and Frankie McAvoy to try and sort out.
Hearts started the game on the front foot and Lawrence Shankland saw an effort go wide in the sixth minute but it was Zander Clark who was the first keeper called into action as he tipped Bevis Mugabi’s header from a corner over the bar in the 11th minute.
The early exchanges saw both sides struggle to get any real kind of momentum but a mix up at the back between Mugabi and Casey let Shankland in behind but he couldn’t pick out Liam Boyce with a square ball. The home side’s lack of end product was punished on 35 minutes when Motherwell won a key midfield battle, which they had been doing for most of the half, and Blair Spittal picked out Callum Slattery with a superb through ball before the Englishman slotted it past Clark. The linesman had his flag up for offside but VAR overruled it and Motherwell had the lead.
There was then another let off for the hosts as Motherwell again outmuscled them in the middle of the park to win possession and Slattery saw Clark off his line before going for the chip from inside his own half. The Scotland stopper wasn’t getting there but was relieved to see it only just land on the roof of the net.
The Hearts’ coaching team clearly saw the need for change at half time with Toby Sibbick coming on to add more physicality as he and Tagawa replaced Lowry and Oda. Those replacements did make the game a bit less frantic but it was still Motherwell who threatened first after the break and Spittal perhaps should have done better as he created space for a shot on the edge of the area before firing wide.
Hearts went up the pitch and a superb cross by Atkinson picked out Tagawa but the sub could only head over at the front post. The hosts persisted and Shankalnd had the perfect chance to equalise as he shaped for a shot just inside the area but a brilliantly timed sliding challenge from Mugabi diverted his effort wide when the skipper must have thought he was scoring.
Boyce found himself in a similar position about 15 minutes later but Mugabi was again the man to deny him with a sliding challenge before the moment that changed the dynamics of the match when Boyce did well to win the ball from Paul McGinn before the defender brought him down and was shown his second yellow. Tynecastle rejoiced in seeing the former Hibee sent for an early bath but if they had found Motherwell difficult to break down before the visitors really shut up shop when reduced to ten men.
The final stages were all Hearts but they simply couldn’t find that equalising goal as Motherwell were rewarded for a resilient performance by taking all three points up the road. The final chance for the Jambos summed the afternoon up as the ball broke for Shankalnd in the area in the 85th minute but his shot was straight into the arms of Kelly.
Hearts: Clark, Kent, Haring (88 - Forrest), Shankland, Boyce, Oda (45 - Tagawa), Atkinson, Devlin (71- Vargas), Rowles, Cochrane, Lowry (45 - Sibbick)
Subs not used: McGovern, Grant, Halliday, Denholm, Tait.
Motherwell: Kelly, McGinn, O’Donnell, Mugabi, Casey, Spencer, Slattery (75 - Zdravkovski), Miller (88 - McGinley), Spittal, Paton, Bair (80 - Shaw)
Subs not used: Oxbrough, Gent, Efford, Wilson, Ferrie, Bone.
Referee: Grant Irvine