WINNING ugly can be a good thing if winning is a novelty, and so it proved for Hearts in this encounter.
Motherwell 0-2 Hearts; September 3, 2007
The Jambos went into the match seeking their first league win of the season after four games which saw the club pick up just two points.
The goals which gave them a first league victory were about the only quality touches of football they displayed, but their willingness to fight to the end of an undistinguished encounter was the key difference between this match and their four previous fixtures.
Laryea Kingston, deployed in an unfamilliar wide right midfield position, made his talent tell, scoring the first midway through the opening 45 minutes, then laying on the second for substitute Andrius Velicka in stoppage time.
As could have been predicted from their differing form, Motherwell began in more confident mood than their visitors, winning the bulk of the 50-50 balls, with Hearts a shade off the pace. It was the Edinburgh team who created the first scoring chance, however, when Robbie Neilson surged down the right and crossed for Calum Elliot. Having been on loan at Fir Park the previous season, Elliot was eager to make an impact on his return, but he directed his header straight at Graeme Smith, allowing the goalkeeper to block.
Stephen Hughes was beginning to look sharp for the Steelmen and on a couple of occasions came close to creating a good opening. But, just as it seemed Motherwell had regained the ascendancy, Hearts took the lead.
Picking up a knocked-down header in the middle of the park, Kingston forged his way up the pitch, then, from outside the box, unleashed a low drive which Smith could not get down to in time.
Within two minutes of the restart, Hearts had a strong penalty claim, with Elliot going down in the box, but Charlie Richmond waved away the appeals from the Hearts players.
Having benefited from that let-off, Motherwell forcefully resumed their search for an equaliser. Steven McGarry had a scoring opportunity at the end of a swift move which saw Marius Zaliukas’s lack of positional awareness exposed, but the striker did not make good contact and his shot was easily gathered by Steve Banks.
Motherwell brought Chris Porter on for Keith Lasley in a bid to strengthen their grip on midfield, but Hearts decided the need was for greater firepower up front, and replaced the tiring Christian Nade with their leading goalscorer from last season, Velicka.
As the game began to lose its shape, Jim Paterson became the first Motherwell player to be cautioned after following through on Neilson. The full-back briefly required treatment, and, before he was back on the pitch, Hearts had made their second change of the evening, with Ruben Palazuelos replacing Michael Stewart. Neilson himself was then booked for re-entering the field of play without permission, and was swiftly followed by Elliot, for dissent.
Five minutes from time Porter almost equalised, but Banks got a hand to his low shot. Zaliukas was booked for a tackle from behind as Hearts fought to hold on to their lead, as Motherwell upped their efforts again.
But it was Hearts who had the last word, when, after being put through by Kingston, Velicka dinked the ball over Smith to secure the three points.