Marking your 150th competitive Hearts appearance with a screamer is typical Callum Paterson. The full-back lashed home a thunderous second goal last night to help end his club’s woeful record at Fir Park. The win also propelled Hearts back to second in the Ladbrokes Premiership before the rest of the weekend fixtures.
Sam Nicholson’s deflected effort in first-half stoppage-time gave the visitors a crucial 1-0 advantage at the break. That increased in the second half when Paterson strode forward from right-back to drive an unstoppable shot with his supposedly weaker left foot high into the top corner of the net. Arnaud Djoum completed a convincing 3-0 scoreline by converting a sublime strike of his own.
Paterson joins up with the Scotland squad next week for two crucial World Cup qualifiers against Lithuania and Slovakia. He will do so high on adrenalin after a goal to remember on his 150th outing since emerging from the Riccarton youth academy in 2012.
In a week which saw steelworks return to Lanarkshire with the reopening of the Dalzell plate mill near Motherwell’s ground, it was Hearts’ iron will which prevailed. They arrived at Fir Park with just one win in the last eight years there, and that was back in 2010 when Nicholson and Paterson were just kids at youth initiative level.
Both have since matured into key protagonists in the Tynecastle revolution over the last two years. Paterson won’t sign a contract extension and intends to move on when his existing deal expires next summer. Hearts fans should therefore enjoy him while they have him, and last night he gave them plenty reason to smile.
Nicholson is also out of contract at the end of the season, although initial talks have taken place on a new deal. Djoum is on a long-term agreement and enjoyed perhaps his finest display of the season so far in central midfield.
Hearts were without the experienced Don Cowie due to injury for what is generally regarded as one of the tougher away assignments in the Ladbrokes Premiership. Head coach Robbie Neilson employed Jamie Walker and Nicholson from the start, doubtless hoping to improve his team’s recent scoring record.
The hosts named an unchanged side following their 1-1 draw at Partick Thistle last week. The Fir Park pitch looked immaculate under the floodlights for a Friday night fixture in front of the BT Sport cameras, and the match began at frantic speed. Both teams sought an early advantage and attacked at will.
Ryan Bowman had the first genuine effort on target from distance after 15 minutes. Hearts goalkeeper Jack Hamilton was equal to the task. At the opposite end, Igor Rossi’s ambitious attempt from all of 35 yards landed well off target. Quick deliveries forward were the order of the day from both teams initially, and the wet surface certainly helped carry the ball behind defenders.
From one deep cross which the Hearts defence failed to properly clear, Craig Clay’s effort ricocheted off John Souttar just yards from goal and looked netbound. Hamilton somehow produced an instinctive and strong hand to beat the ball away. Moments later, Keith Lasley dispatched a shot from distance, followed by his fellow veteran Scott McDonald. Neither troubled Hamilton, though.
Those three home attempts at goal inside three minutes were warnings to Hearts that Motherwell carried plenty threat. Manager Mark McGhee made a change on 26 minutes when Cadden trudged off, presumably injured, allowing Lee Lucas to make his debut from the substitutes’ bench.
The pace of the game had slowed by the half-hour mark and Hearts were then able to settle into more of a patient, passing rhythm. Their final ball from middle to front lacked quality, and as such they were unable to gain clear sight of Craig Samson’s goal. Conor Sammon was being tightly marked and his strike partner, Tony Watt, looked dangerous on the ball but was playing too deep - often seen in the central midfield area
Walker’s delightfully executed one-two with Perry Kitchen in the 37th minute did create an opening, but for strangely the winger delayed his shot and was forced wide. His low cross was then cleared. That was the most glaring opportunity for Hearts up until that point. Motherwell then fashioned a chance of their own as Hamilton parried McDonald’s drive from Louis Moult’s through pass.
Just as it seemed the interval would arrive with a blank scoreline, Hearts forced themselves ahead. Much of the initial credit belonged to Paterson for chasing an aimless ball following a corner and winning a free-kick outside the Motherwell penalty box on the Hearts right. Nicholson took it, Samson came but didn’t collect, and then came a moment of carelessness from the Motherwell captain, Lasley.
As the loose ball bounced out towards the edge of the penalty area, Lasley chose a chipped pass forward rather than a full-blooded clearance. Bearing in mind first-half stoppage-time was being played, it was a crazy decision. Nicholson stepped in to intercept the wayward ball. He moved forward to unleash a shot from 20 yards that careered off McManus and totally wrong-footed Samson as it nestled in the bottom corner.
McGhee was seething with Lasley at half-time and thumped the ball away in disgust as the whistle sounded. He was ushered up the tunnel before doubtless giving the skipper a piece of his mind in the dressing room.
Walker’s run and shot flew just past Samson’s left post shortly after play restarted. At the opposite end, McDonald hit the crossbar from a cross and Hamilton saved the rebound before the striker lashed the ball into the net. The goalkeeper was rescued by an offside flag, however. Play was again fluctuating from one penalty area to the other, and Samson produced a fine diving save to his right to push away another of Walker’s shots.
When Paterson blasted in the second goal in, the game was over. The move started when Samson had pushed Nicholson’s low cross away, but the Hearts kept at it and the full-back met Sammon’s cut-back on the run at the edge of the penalty area. There was only one outcome. Even with his left foot, the ball raced high into the keeper’s top left corner.
A post denied Watt a goal before Djoum completed the visitors’ scoring. He slotted another poorly cleared corner home from the edge of the box with his right foot. An excellent James McFadden free-kick in stoppage-time reduced the deficit, although that couldn’t cloud a fine night for those from the Capital. Wins at Fir Park haven’t come often in recent years, but this one was worth waiting for.
Motherwell (4-3-3): Samson; Tait, Heneghan, McManus, Hammell; Cadden (Lucas 26), Lasley (Ainsworth 71), Clay; Moult, McDonald, Bowman (McFadden 71). Unused subs: Brill, Thomas, Ferguson, McMillan.
Hearts (4-4-2): Hamilton; Paterson, Souttar, Rossi, Rherras; Nicholson (Buaben 80), Kitchen, Djoum, Walker (Muirhead 82); Sammon (Johnsen 69), Watt. Unused subs: Noring, Ozturk, Nowak, Currie.
Referee: Steven McLean.