JAMES McFADDEN inspired Motherwell to a convincing win over Hearts by setting up three and scoring one of their four goals.
Iain Vigurs, Lionel Ainsworth and John Sutton were all teed up by the roaming McFadden before the former Scotland striker headed a goal of his own to cap an outstanding display.
Callum Paterson scored Hearts’ consolation with an excellent header from a corner, but the visitors were outplayed for much of the afternoon. Motherwell took a grip of midfield in the first half and spent much of the second in opposition territory aiming shots at Jamie MacDonald’s goal.
Indeed, Hearts’ best player on a disappointing afternoon in Lanarkshire was teenager Sam Nicholson. He tried relentlessly to open up the opposition but was closed down whenever he ventured forward on the left wing.
After a fairly assertive opening by Hearts, Jamie MacDonald was called upon to push Ainsworth’s deflected 18-yard volley for a corner. The visiting goalkeeper saved another ricocheted effort moments later, this time from Sutton’s left-foot following Zaine Francis-Angol’s cutback.
Pressure was mounting on the Hearts goal and it was no surprise when Motherwell moved ahead on 18 minutes. From Lee Hollis’ long kickout, McFadden killed the ball and exchanged two passes with Vigurs to put the former Ross County player in on goal. A prodded finish into the corner of the net from 18 yards left MacDonald helpless.
Ryan Stevenson thumped a 20-yard free-kick just wide of the Motherwell goal as the half-hour mark approached. However, a lot of Hearts’ play in the final third was lacking cohesion. The same could not be said for the home team, who m oved 2-0 ahead eight minutes before the interval.
A cross ball from the left by James McFadden landed at the feet of Ainsworth, who took a touch and drove it high into MacDonald’s left corner. That left the visitors facing an improbable task and they could have been 3-0 down had McFadden not nodded Ainsworth’s deep cross over the bar.
The Hearts manager Gary Locke introduced Dale Carrick for Brad McKay for the second half. Carrick was certainly unfortunate not to be included in the starting line-up given his impressive form since the turn of the year. Within moments of the restart, he cut inside from the left and lashed the ball off the crossbar.
That apart, Motherwell continued to push forward and enjoyed control of midfield. Their fluid movement in attack through McFadden, Vigurs and Ainsworth caused the Hearts defence continual problems. Vigurs and Jack Leitch had shots which failed to seriously trouble MacDonald before a cross careered off Sutton and looped over the crossbar.
Leitch’s 62nd-minute shot was saved by MacDonald legs, with Kevin McHattie blocking Ainsworth’s follow-up attempt. A third Motherwell goal was on the cards, and again it was heavily influenced by McFadden. He collected possession 35 yards from goal and drove forward but was blocked in the act of shooting by Paterson. The ball rolled kindly into Sutton’s path and he produced a low finish from around 12 yards.
Hearts reduced the deficit on 69 minutes when Paterson rose highest to nod Kevin McHattie’s corner downwards and beyond Hollis. However, five minutes later, McFadden got the goal his display richly deserved as Motherwell moved 4-1 ahead. The former Scotland striker glanced Vigurs’ swirling free-kick away from MacDonald into the bottom corner to complete a man-of-the-match performance.
Motherwell (4-2-3-1): Hollis; Reid, Hutchinson, McManus, Francis-Angol (Murray 34); Lasley (Carswell 80), Leitch; Ainsworth (Cadden 83), McFadden, Vigurs; Sutton. Subs: Neilsen, Shirkie, Thomas.
Hearts (4-4-2): MacDonald; McGowan, McKay (Carrick 46), Wilson, McGhee; Stevenson, Hamill, Robinson (Holt 66), Nicholson; McCallum (King 66), Paterson. Subs: Ridgers, Oliver, McGhee, Beith.
Referee: John Beaton.