THE look on Callum Paterson’s face at full-time told its own story. A 2-2 result at Motherwell left the Hearts right-back raging at two more dropped points after last week’s draw with Dundee.
Heading to Newcastle for the team’s Christmas night out on Saturday, his mood was about as festive as sunburn.
Paterson didn’t hide his disgust nor mince his words in the Fir Park media room. He even loosely criticised team-mate Blazej Augustyn for suggesting Hearts could beat Celtic to the Ladbrokes Premiership title. If that is their aim, they would prefer to keep it internal and focus on building the consistency required to achieve it.
Saturday’s draw dropped them to third place as Aberdeen returned to second by beating Ross County.
Twice the visitors came from behind amid swirling gales and driving rain in Lanarkshire but couldn’t force a winner to take three points. First Juanma Delgado equalised Louis Moult’s opening goal, then Osman Sow’s stunning 30-yard strike levelled after Marvin Johnson had put Motherwell 2-1 up. It was a fitting show of resilience from Hearts, wearing their Foundation of Hearts kit for the first time in honour of more than 8000 fans whose money has kept the club alive.
It wasn’t enough for Paterson, however.
“It was a bad game, bad performance, bad weather, bad result, bad everything. I didn’t enjoy it at all,” he complained. “It’s two points dropped. That’s four dropped in two games now. That’s not good enough for us. People are saying we can go and win the title, people in our team. We need to have a look at that and obviously figure it out.
“There were no words in the dressing-room, just disappointment. Everyone knows what they’ve done and what they’ve done wrong so we just need to work on it ourselves. We didn’t pass the ball. We’re a passing team, we pass from the back and we break teams down but we didn’t do that. We just got brought down to playing a different level of football and we ended up kicking the ball long and trying to win flick-ons and stuff.
“The conditions are no excuse. The pitch isn’t an excuse, the weather’s no excuse, it’s down to ourselves. You can’t blame anyone else for playing bad and that’s what I feel we did. Last year we went and won the league with games to spare and that’s the standard we set ourselves. We looked to take that into this season and we haven’t done that.
“We lost a goal after a minute. I don’t think we’ve ever lost a goal that quickly with this team. It’s disappointing for us. We’ve been keeping clean sheets recently and we haven’t managed one in the last two games. That’s bad for us.”
Moult’s second-minute opener was controversial as he challenged the Hearts goalkeeper Neil Alexander for Jonson’s cross. Alexander looked to be impeded by the Motherwell forward as he caught the ball and the pair collided. The ball dropped for Moult to tap home and, despite protests by the visiting players, referee Steven McLean awarded a goal. He also booked Alexander for dissent.
Juanma’s equaliser came via Sow’s perfectly-weighted through ball, which the Spaniard calmly chipped over the advancing Connor Ripley.
Sow’s shot two minutes later was blocked by the Motherwell goalkeeper, who also saved Paterson’s powerful header from Danny Swanson’s free-kick. At the opposite end, Igor Rossi threw his body in the way of Stephen Pearson’s goalbound effort before Alexander saved McDonald’s cushioned effort following another cross by the outstanding Johnson.
The weather went from poor to appalling in the second half. Jordan McGhee replaced the unconvincing Juwon Oshaniwa at left-back to a fair amount of cheering from the 1776 travelling fans. Johnson restored Motherwell’s lead on 65 minutes, sprinting forward to plant an angled drive across Alexander and into the far corner of the net. Four minutes later, Hearts levelled when Sow collected the ball and dispatched a raking 30-yard shot which dipped over Ripley and screamed into the net.
Sam Nicholson should have secured three points after Ripley’s excellent save from Sow, but his volley sailed high above the crossbar. A draw was a fair result in truth. Visiting players removed their iconic shirts and handed them to fans at full-time and Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson was philosophical about the outcome.
“I’d like to have won but you saw the conditions were horrific at times,” he said. “We’re asking guys to play football in it when you can’t even take a free-kick because the ball is rolling about.
“Taking a point, in the grand scheme of things, is alright but I’d prefer to be taking three. It’s encouraging that we came from behind twice but the disappointing thing is we’re losing goals.
“We went four games without losing any goals. On Saturday, we lost two really poor goals and scored two decent ones ourselves.
“We should be going there and keeping a clean sheet, then letting our technical players win it for us.”
Mark McGhee, the Motherwell manager, rightly extolled the quality shown by left winger Johnson. “I thought we won it on chances but I’m not too interested in results at this stage,” said McGhee following only his sixth game in charge since he returned to Fir Park. “I wanted something to build on and we certainly had that.
“A lot of what we did during the week and a lot of what I hoped for was out there, even focusing on Marvin.
“I went to the sponsors before the game and told them: ‘If Marvin plays the way he has trained this week then he will be unplayable’. And he pretty much did. He was fantastic and fulfilled everything I have seen in him since I came here. If nothing else, I was so pleased with his performance and for him.
“We tried to play him slightly outside. I had been asking him to tuck in a bit. On Saturday we gave him a bit of licence and we tried hard to get the ball to him. When we did, he was dangerous, and I would like to think he could build on that and take confidence from it.”