A stunning late strike from super-sub Saulius Mikoliunas gave Hearts all three points in a thrilling season-opener at Tynecastle.
The match was Hungarian boss Csaba Laszlo’s first competitive match in charge of the Jambos having replaced Stephen Frail in July.
His opposite number, Motherwell’s Mark McGhee, knocked back the head coach job at Hearts in May, but that added little edge to the occasion with enough excitement for both sets of supporters out on the pitch, who were treated to a feast of attacking end-to-end play.
Hearts seemed a tad nervous in the opening quarter of the match and approached the early exchanges with a cautious formation, relying on breakaways and with striker Jamie Mole often left on his own in the Motherwell half.
Well midfielder Bob Malcolm had slimmed down over the summer but the former Rangers player’s combative nature had in no way diminished. Inside six minutes his name was in referee Ian Brines’s book for a despairing lunge at Andy Driver. The first real opportunity fell to Audrius Ksanavicius after nine minutes, but referee Ian Brines blew his whistle for the winger’s foul on Stephen Craigan just as Graeme Smith superbly saved the Hearts man’s effort. Brines’s next intervention after 13 minutes was even more telling. He ruled that Ksanavicius had ‘simulated’ his fall after a Craigan half-tackle and instead of collecting a penalty, the Lithuanian got a yellow card.
Perhaps to even things up, Brines also gave Steven Banks the benefit of the doubt when he appeared to handle the ball outside his area under pressure from Chris Porter. Hearts began to get men forward, and after 25 minutes, a breathtaking move involving Mole, Driver, and Ksanavicius ended with Michael Stewart taking a perfect first touch and slamming the ball under Smith from 15 yards.
Shortly afterwards, Smith reacted brilliantly when a deflected shot from Driver curled over him, the keeper just managing to tip the ball on to the bar. Motherwell raced upfield and in 33 minutes Stephen Hughes cut inside Jason Thomson and Marius Zaliukas to stroke the ball into the path of David Clarkson for a close-range equaliser.
Stewart and Keith Lasley were booked for a touch of handbag waving, before Hearts took the lead again. Craigan and Mark Reynolds seemed to have the ball covered, but Ksanavicius nipped between them and pressed home courageously as the boots rained in, his shot slipping under Smith.
After a half of end-to-end excitement, the second half unsurprisingly went into a lull at times. Driver was causing Motherwell all sorts of problems on the left until he was injured and eventually replaced, while Stewart and Zaliukas both went close with snapshots. The visitors had plenty possession but precious few chances.
After a rash of substitutions, the game exploded back into life when Clarkson equalised with a low shot with 10 minutes remaining. The home fans in the 14,000 crowd were stunned, but a minute later they were in raptures when, just three minutes after coming on, Mikoliunas burst down the right wing and sped into the box, firing an unstoppable shot high past Smith for that crucial first win for Laszlo.
Hearts: Banks, Thomson, Wallace, Zaliukas, Karipidis, Berra, Kingston, Stewart, Mole, Ksanavicius, Driver.