Maroon Memories: Laszlo instils a steel core

Saulius Mikoliunas celebrates after scoring the winner less than 60 seconds after Motherwell made it 2-2
Saulius Mikoliunas celebrates after scoring the winner less than 60 seconds after Motherwell made it 2-2
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With a rousing season-opening performance, Hearts overcame Motherwell in an enthralling encounter which emphasised the new-found belief that manager Csaba Laszlo had instilled at Tynecastle.

The hosts simply overpowered their stubborn visitors, who equalised twice, to open their SPL campaign with the victory demanded by their manager.

Laszlo’s side began the campaign with intent. They looked fitter, faster and significantly more determined than the season before against a Motherwell team which wasn’t frightened to attack and contained plenty of midfield craft.

Former Jambos boss George Burley took a seat in the Tynecastle directors’ box to assess international candidates prior to Scotland’s upcoming friendly with Northern Ireland, Hearts captain Christophe Berra and Motherwell’s David Clarkson the main protagonists. Berra found himself surrounded by two central defenders for this match in Marius Zaliukas and Christos Karipidis, the latter deployed just ahead of the back four in an unorthodox holding midfield role. His protection allowed midfield counterparts freedom to roam forward and with that Hearts began purposefully taking the game to their guests from Lanarkshire.

Andrius Ksanavicius found himself eyeballing Graeme Smith on nine minutes but shot straight at the Motherwell goalkeeper before realising he had been penalised for tugging Stephen Craigan. In truth, it appeared more likely that the defender had lost his footing under pressure as forwards swarmed around him.

Ksanavicius was then cautioned for diving by referee Iain Brines moments later after falling deliberately over Craigan’s outstretched leg in the penalty area. Whilst that decision appeared correct, Brines was guilty of failing to maintain standards when Clarkson fell just as theatrically under a challenge from Lee Wallace and escaped without punishment.

The game proceeded at a frenetic rate, Motherwell’s adventurous 4-3-3 formation ensuring they carried attacking menace. Clarkson, Chris Porter and Steven McGarry worked the home defence tirelessly but Hearts’ new-season hunger couldn’t be suppressed and on 25 minutes Michael Stewart sprinted beyond the Motherwell rearguard to finish a beautifully constructed move. The increasingly influential Ksanavicius threaded the ball to Andy Driver, whose pass was perfectly cushioned for Stewart to slot calmly past Smith.

However, Clarkson’s equaliser soon after served to temporarily dampen home enthusiasm. The right side of Hearts’ defence remained static at a Motherwell throw and Stephen Hughes evaded Zaliukas to cross for Clarskon’s conversion inside the six-yard box.

The defensive lethargy would have infuriated Laszlo, a manager who demands tactical discipline at all times,but the bravery of Ksanavicius in scoring his side’s second must have tempered the Hungarian’s frustration. Mark Reynolds allowed a high ball to spin uncontrollably off his head on 40 minutes, and the Lithuanian prodded it past Smith, taking a painful boot in the stomach.

Restoring their advantage was just reward for Hearts’ enthralling first-half display.

Such was their energy and work rate that tiredness was certain to become a factor during the latter stages, something Well boss Mark McGhee would have been banking on.

That couldn’t be the excuse when the second equaliser arrived, however. Juho Makela, on as a substitute with fresh legs, showed woeful control when taking a ball from defence and conceded possession. Clarkson collected, spun and drove a deflected drive beyond Steve Banks. Makela beat the ground in frustration.

The response was a raking 20-yard strike from Saulius Mikoliunas less than 60 seconds later. Laszlo jumped virtually on to the field to give an impromptu jig of celebration at securing a 3-2 lead.

Hearts: Banks, Thomson, Wallace, Zaliukas, Karipidis, Berra, Kingston, Stewart, Mole, Ksanavicius, Driver.