Motherwell 1, Hearts 4: October 4, 1997
A CHANGE in formation continued to reap rewards for Hearts as they put four past Motherwell in a stunning attacking performance with three leading the line.
Jim Jefferies, the Hearts manager, had ditched the 3-5-2 system which failed when they were well beaten by Rangers at Ibrox on the opening day of the season, and the sophisticated 4-3-3 approach which let their attackers off the leash reaped dividends as they made it five league wins in a row for the first time since 1991.
This superb win at Fir Park took their tally to seven goals in back-to-back away games and they deservedly led the Premier Division.
Jefferies had come up with the perfect blend in attack, with the front three of Jim Hamilton, Stephane Adam and Neil McCann ably supported by the dominant midfield trio of Colin Cameron, Stefano Salvatori and Steve Fulton. There was such a purity of purpose about Hearts at their best that it was easy to give the team the benefit of the doubt when they switched off for nearly all of the second-half.
The quality of the goals Hearts scored was also impressive. Neil Pointon supplied the through ball for the opening goal, Adam swivelled and Cameron ghosted through a clutter of Motherwell defenders to stab the ball home.
The provider of the first turned executor for the second. True, Hamilton enjoyed the break of the ball before slipping the pass forward, but the graduate of the French footballing school of excellence timed his run from half-way to perfection and scored a classic counter-attacking goal.
For the third, Hearts adopted a more direct approach. Allan McManus and Fulton were involved in the build-up before David Weir delivered an exquisite crossfield pass on to the head of Hamilton at the back post.
The striker nodded across the goal and the quicksilver McCann had the simple task of finishing things off. The former Dundee winger believed Hearts had evolved into a counter-attacking side of quality.
This was borne out by the fourth goal midway through the second-half when Cameron dispossessed Simo Valakari in midfield, ran half the length of the pitch and then fed the ball wide to the right in front of Hamilton for the striker to complete an outstanding afternoon’s work. Like all of Hearts’ first-half goals, it was a product of forward momentum.
Jefferies, though, wanted to praise his defence and midfield as well as the attack since there was a long spell in the second half when Motherwell might have capitalised on Tommy Coyne’s penalty goal before half-time. Competition for places had clearly played a part in the Hearts revival – Austrian internationalist Thomas Flogel couldn’t even get on to the bench – and it is hard to recall the last time the Edinburgh side worked this hard or to such obvious purpose. Hearts maintained a strong challenge on the Old Firm until April, before they faded away badly in the last few weeks of the season and ended up finishing third. It remains one of the club’s most impressive seasons in recent times.
Hearts: Rousset, McManus, Pointon, Weir, Salvatori, Ritchie, McCann, Fulton, Hamilton, Cameron, Adam.