Bruising battle in offing when Hearts meet Motherwell

Juanma is back for Hearts this weekend after suspension. Pic: SNS
Juanma is back for Hearts this weekend after suspension. Pic: SNS
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With Motherwell’s Stephen McManus and Hearts’ Juanma Delgado both available after suspension, a bruising battle is in the offing at Fir Park this Saturday.

McManus is expected to return to the centre of the home defence and will likely confront the imposing figure of Juanma head-on. The Hearts striker is more British in style than his Spanish roots suggest and seems perfectly willing and able for a battle of brawn.

“I think it will be competitive, to say the least,” says Kenny Black, the former Motherwell coach and Tynecastle midfielder.

“You look at that kind of target man and Hearts are a big, strong side. They’re very dangerous at set-pieces. They also have wide men who can create chances and midfielders who can chip in with a goal. The support they have is a huge help and, having stabilised a position in the Premiership, they can look upwards rather than downwards now.”

Dealing with Juanma would be enough to occupy any defence, yet his striking partner is the equally monstrous Osman Sow. One is 6ft 3in, the other 6ft 5in. Brick outhouses are simply small fry by comparison.

Both players also possess a level of technical ability which adds to their menace. “They’re not just target men, they’re comfortable enough with the ball into feet,” Black points out.

“They’ve got good mobility with midfield players and wide players running off them. That’s why Hearts are a threat. I’d expect McManus back in the side and I’m sure Motherwell will be well versed in that.

“I think if you deal with that, you’ve won half the battle against Hearts. They have the two boys up front and then in the wide areas they can play. They’re a threat getting into the box and I think you have to try and stop that. Paul Hartley was happy with how Dundee coped last week. On any given day, going to Tynecastle and getting a point is a good result.

“Hearts have that ability to go away from home, be organised and make it a compact game. Yet, when they’re let loose, the players we’re speaking about are a given threat and that’s the challenge for Motherwell on Saturday.”

Another weapon used to good effect by the Edinburgh club this season comes from right-back. Callum Paterson is partial to a rampage up the flank but has also matured into a more reliable defender this season.

Black, having been part of the Scotland coaching staff under Craig Levein, sees Paterson as a natural international full-back who will eventually win senior caps.

“Gordon Strachan wants to introduce players into the Scotland set-up,” he says. “I can remember Paterson playing right-back and through the middle against us when I was at Motherwell. He’s a constant danger going up and down that line when he plays at right-back and he’s a goal threat coming in at the back post.

“If he maintains his consistency of performance, there’s nothing to stop him forcing his way into the national set-up. He’s another one of these physical players who is a threat in the opposition box and offers a lot defensively as well. That’s very much a trait that Hearts have.”

That armour has helped propel Hearts to second in the Ladbrokes Premiership just 18 months since Robbie Neilson took charge of a club which had just been relegated to the Championship.

Their recovery has been as remarkable as it has been quick.

“What Hearts did last season was fantastic and I think they can challenge for the top three,” says Black. “They’re good enough to be there. It looks like Celtic will win the league again but I can see Hearts challenging for that second position or at least third. The crowds they’re attracting home and away are certainly beneficial for Scottish football.”