FORMER Hearts striker John Sutton helped continue his old club’s miserable run with the only goal of a pulsating game at Tynecastle.
The Englishman scored five minutes before half-time to grant Motherwell their sixth successive win and keep them challenging at the top end of the Scottish Premiership.
For Hearts, this was an eighth loss in nine games, albeit after a good performance and no little energy from Gary Locke’s players. They pressed forward for long spells, especially in the second half, and might have earned a point on another day.
Motherwell arrived in Edinburgh high on confidence and with striker Henri Anier signed on a permanent, two-and-a-half-year contract. He is currently unable to command a starting place, Sutton and Scotland international James McFadden being the main reasons for that.
It was McFadden’s low cross which created the first moment of consternation for Hearts as Jordan McGhee almost turned the ball into his own net inside two minutes. Goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald then collected a low effort from Iain Vigurs with Motherwell stroking the ball around confidently.
The home team had striker Dale Carrick starting a match for the first time this season and paired him with Ryan Stevenson in a sign of their attacking intent. Carrick’s pace took him in behind the Motherwell defence on two occasions during the first 20 minutes but he lacked the required support to trouble Gunnar Nielsen in the away goal.
Hearts survived a huge scare in the 25th minute. Motherwell broke forward and McFadden’s intelligent ball to Lionel Ainsworth split the home defence wide open. Scott Robinson recovered brillaintly to block the winger’s shot, and McFadden then volleyed wide after Ainsworth had retrieved the ball and crossed it back into the penalty area.
MacDonald produced a stunning one-handed save from Ainsworth’s driven volley on 34 minutes. Then again, play reverted to the opposite and Hearts appealed for a penalty kick when Stevenson fell attempting to go past Keith Lasley. If the home supporters were frustrated at that moment, they would have been further irked moments later when Motherwell moved ahead.
The outstanding Vigurs played an intelligent ball in behind the Hearts defence for Sutton to scamper off in chase. Brad McKay failed to cut it out and MacDonald came sprinting off his goal line, only for Sutton to round the goalkeeper and convert the opening goal from the most acute angle.
Ainsworth’s pace was a problem for the hosts throughout the first half and shortly after the interval he threatened again. Vigurs sprayed a beautiful ball in behind Kevin McHattie and the winger sprinted clear but was thwarted by the outrushing MacDonald before he could shoot.
A right-sided cross from Stevenson rebounded inadvertently off the Motherwell crossbar moments later, and Nielsen was called upon to fist clear a 25-yard attempt from David Smith. The Faroese pushed Stevenson’s 20-yard strike for a corner in the 65th minute and then did likewise when substitute Jamie Walker tried his luck. Hearts were now enjoying their most concerted spell of pressure.
Sam Nicholson was introduced to provide even more attacking impetus, and from a corner McKay and Callum Paterson both had efforts on goal blocked. However, Sutton had a glorious chance to secure Motherwell’s win from substitute Anier’s cutback six minutes from the end. Again, MacDonald rescued Hearts.
There was one more chance for an equaliser when Jamie Hamill’s prodded attempt was blocked by Nielsen’s legs in the final minutes. Despite a confident and determined performance, particularly in the second half, the hosts were left frustrated by yet another defeat as Motherwell’s momentum continued.
Hearts (4-4-2): MacDonald; McGhee, McKay, McGowan, McHattie (Walker 53); Paterson, Hamill, Robinson, Smith (B King 80); Carrick (Nicholson 73), Stevenson. Subs: Hamilton, Tapping, A King, Oliver.
Motherwell (4-2-3-1): Nielsen; Ramsden, Hutchinson, McManus, Hammell; Carswell, Lasley; Ainsworth (Francis-Angol 73), McFadden (Anier 73), Vigurs (Lawson 84); Sutton. Subs: Stewart, McHugh, Moore, Murray.
Referee: Willie Collum.