HEARTS ended Motherwell’s six-game run without defeat thanks to a blistering start including three goals inside the opening 22 minutes.
Igor Rossi and Osman Sow scored before a Gavin Reilly penalty put the hosts out of sight with just a quarter of the game played.
Callum Paterson, Juanma and an Arnaud Djoum penalty ensured another three goals in the second half to round off a thoroughly convincing win.
Motherwell’s last defeat before arriving in Gorgie was back on November 21, but they couldn’t cope with Hearts’ pace and power. Djoum and Miguel Pallardo took an early grip of midfield and made light of the wintry conditions to control proceedings. Three goals in an 11-minute spell in the first half pretty much destroyed the visitors, who were missing some key players including their suspended captain Keith Lasley.
The second half became a case of how many and there will have been plenty to please Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson come full-time. Six different scorers and a clean sheet against one of Scotland’s in-form teams was definitely something to be admired.
Sam Nicholson’s knee injury forced Hearts into one change from last week’s Scottish Cup win over Aberdeen. Billy King took Nicholson’s place and was eager to make an impression amidst freezing, snowy conditions in Edinburgh. He supplied the corner from which the home side took the lead on 11 minutes.
Rossi rose high to glance King’s delivery goalwards and the ball was judged to have crossed the line before being hooked clear by Joe Chalmers. The standside assistant referee, Brian Templeton, raised his flag to signal a goal and spark the celebrations amongst Hearts supporters.
They were cheering again five minutes later. Paterson used his physique to win possession twice in succession, allowing Djoum to slip a quick pass to Sow. The Swede turned to dispatch a low shot with his left foot from 20 yards which beat Motherwell goalkeeper Connor Ripley and nestled in the bottom corner.
The game was effectively over on 21 minutes when Hearts were awarded a penalty. Reilly was pulled down by Ripley whilst attempting to dribble round the keeper, and the striker confident stroked home the spot-kick to give the hosts a comfortable 3-0 lead.
Sow had a possible fourth goal disallowed for offside just after the half-hour mark, and Prince Buaben stung Ripley’s palms from 25 yards soon after. Motherwell badly missed the influence of Lasley and Liam Grimshaw, who has returned to Manchester United after a loan spell at Fir Park.
The visitors started the second half seeking an early goal and some sort of lifeline. Louis Moult ought to have done better than head Lionel Ainsworth’s free-kick over the crossbar on 52 minutes. Mark McGhee, the Motherwell manager, would have noticed his players keeping the ball slightly better but would have been frustrated by their inability to forge clear scoring chances.
Pallardo and substitute Juanma hit shots off target for Hearts before Scott McDonald passed up a glaring opportunity. Unmarked, the Australian headed Marvin Johnson’s right-sided cross wide of the back post, a miss which virtually summed up a miserable afternoon for McGhee and his team. An equally good chance presented itself a few minutes later when substitute Wes Fletcher ran through on goal after dispossessing Pallardo. However, he too failed to hit the target.
Hearts punished Motherwell’s profligacy with a fourth goal 12 minutes from the end. A neat passing move involving Almi Ozturk and another sub, Dario Zanatta, ended with Paterson stroking a low finish beyond Ripley with his left foot inside the penalty area. Juanma struck the fifth from Djoum’s prodded through ball, the Spaniard turning swiftly to shoot low into the corner of the net. Djoum then won and scored a penalty of his own after being fouled by Stephen McManus.
Eventually, the final whistle sounded to end Motherwell’s despondency. Six goals was more than enough to keep Hearts happy as they closed the gap on second-placed Aberdeen in the Ladbrokes Premiership.
Hearts (4-4-2): Alexander; Paterson, Ozturk, Augustyn, Rossi (McGhee 83); King, Djoum, Pallardo, Buaben; Reilly (Zanatta 69), Sow (Juanma 65). Unused subs: Hamilton, Oshaniwa, Buchanan, Swanson.
Motherwell (4-4-2): Ripley; Hammell, McManus, Hall, Chalmers; Ainsworth (Thomas 68), Law (Clarkson 82), Pearson, Johnson; McDonald, Moult (Fletcher 68). Unused subs: Samson, Laing, Cadden, McFadden.
Referee: Kevin Clancy.