HEARTS moved on from the departure of captain Steven Pressley to record a fine victory over Motherwell at Tynecastle after the uncertainty which had dominated the news headlines in the build-up to this match.
The treatment of Pressley may have been nothing short of disgraceful but his unsavoury departure was counter-balanced by something of a minor renaissance on the field which supplied some evidence that things were starting to click in a footballing context, despite the internal political battles at Hearts.
From their previous two matches, Hearts had secured two away draws and while this performance was not totally symbolic of the team’s true potential, Valdas Ivanauskas and his charges went about their business trenchantly in the absence of their skipper.
Five Lithuanians began the match in maroon for the first time, and they performed competently. In some cases excellently. But each was usurped by the rampant Bruno Aguiar, who thrived in the advanced midfield role given to him as a consequence of Paul Hartley’s suspension.
The absence of both Pressley and Hartley had filled many supporters with dread, but Aguiar and others stepped up to the mark and at times overwhelmed Motherwell.
In the ninth minute, Takis Fyssas sauntered past Neil McCann to take a pass from the Scot and competently dispatch the ball into the net off Colin Meldrum’s left-hand post. It was a finish any striker would have cherished and brought Fyssas his first goal for Hearts. The Greek full-back celebrated with a run almost the length of the Tynecastle pitch.
Motherwell were initially slow to respond, but in their first attack David Clarkson broke free of Marius Zaliukas, and his cross was poked into the net by Richie Foran from close range. It was to be the visitors’ only shot on target.
Hearts were totally dominant from then to the interval without fashioning many clear opportunities. They did benefit immensely from the improved attitude and application of Edgaras Jankauskas, who was combative and industrious until his substitution after 73 minutes. Referee Craig Mackay incurred the wrath of the home fans with some confusing decisions and appeared reluctant to book Motherwell’s Paul Quinn in the 55th minute for a foul on Fyssas. However, after hearing the Greek’s complaints he produced the yellow card and Quinn’s misery was compounded from the resultant free-kick by Aguiar as he flicked the ball into the goal.
Hearts had been gifted the lead and two minutes later they constructed a superb third goal. Aguiar’s incisive pass was central to the move as he sent Andrius Velicka in behind the Motherwell centre-backs. Showing a fine turn of pace, the Lithuanian latched on to the ball and calmly lofted it over Meldrum from 18 yards.
Then, when it seemed Aguiar’s afternoon couldn’t be bettered, he struck another sublime free kick from 25 yards that rendered Meldrum helpless.
Without Pressley and Hartley, Hearts, perhaps surprisingly, were excelling.
Neil McCann passed up a blatant chance to score a fifth late in the match after Meldrum’s save from a powerful Michal Pospisil header landed at the winger’s feet. He launched the ball into the Gorgie Road Stand from five yards.