Motherwell 2-0 Hearts: Jambos flounder as Stuart Kettlewell proves his credentials for the Fir Park manager's job

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If Stuart Kettlewell is auditioning for the Motherwell manager’s job, this was the kind of performance capable of securing the gig. Hearts delivered perhaps their weakest display of the season in this 2-0 defeat, but the hosts deserved plenty credit.

Kettlewell oversaw a rejuvenating 2-1 midweek win against St Mirren following Steven Hammell’s sacking last weekend. Beating Hearts gave the interim manager two wins from two games in charge at Fir Park. Other protagonists in pursuit of the Motherwell job include Englishman Ian Holloway and Northern Irishman Grant McCann, but Kettlewell has manoeuvred himself into a strong position.

Jon Obika scored his first Motherwell goal since arriving on loan from Morecambe, and Blair Spittal claimed the second to earn a final scoreline which was by no means unfair on Hearts. Their goalkeeper, Zander Clark, produced several saves during the afternoon as those outfield struggled for any kind of rhythm.

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With Lawrence Shankland back in the team in place of the suspended Josh Ginnelly, the visitors enjoyed a decent start which did not last. Motherwell settled after ten minutes and began moving the ball with more cohesion and pace.

The hosts appealed for a penalty when their forward, Kevin van Veen, lost possession through a legal Robert Snodgrass sliding challenge inside the area as the half-hour mark approached. Snodgrass fashioned Hearts a decent opening moments later. His delicate cross towards the back post found Shankland for a precise downward header which bounced off Kelly’s right-hand upright.

This game was nothing if not open and Motherwell scored first five minutes from the interval. Hearts goalkeeper Clark touched Sean Goss’ powerful drive on to the top of his crossbar and over. The resultant corner landed again with Goss 18 yards out following Stephen Humphrys’ headed clearance. The midfielder’s shot was diverted home by Obika from close range.

Stephen Kingsley’s 20-yard free-kick clipped Kelly’s crossbar before the break, but immediately after the restart Hearts found themselves 2-0 down. Obika controlled a long ball and laid off to Van Veen, whose cross was head-flicked onto the inside of the far post by Spittal. With the visiting defence slow in reacting to the rebound, Spittal stepped forward for a straightforward conversion from six yards.

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The two-goal deficit seemed a proverbial mountain with Motherwell now clearly in the ascendancy. Kelly stopped Toby Sibbick’s attempt at the near post following a corner during the push for a quick response. It petered out, however.

Motherwell's Kevin van Veen and Hearts' Nathaniel Atkinson at Fir Park.Motherwell's Kevin van Veen and Hearts' Nathaniel Atkinson at Fir Park.
Motherwell's Kevin van Veen and Hearts' Nathaniel Atkinson at Fir Park.

A triple substitution by the away team caused some confusion and perhaps summed up the afternoon for those from Tynecastle. Defender Alex Cochrane left the field and had to be recalled whilst walking round the touchline as he wasn’t one of the three players being replaced at that point.

Kelly held an efforts Cochrane and substitute Jorge Grant but in truth Hearts lacked the sorcery to properly carve their way through Motherwell. The three-man home defence was dominated by centre-back Calum Butcher as visiting subs Garang Kuol, Alan Forrest and Yutaro Oda tried in vain to prise a scoring chance in front of 2,413 frustrated travelling supporters.

Motherwell (3-4-1-2): Kelly; McGinn, Butcher (Mugabi 89), Casey; Johnston, Goss (O’Donnell 83), Cornelius (Slattery 79), Furlong; Spittal (Danzaki 89); Obika, Van Veen.

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Hearts (3-4-2-1): Clark; Hill (Forrest 60), Sibbick, Kingsley; M Smith (Atkinson 60), Devlin (Grant 46), Snodgrass, Cochrane (Oda 78); Shankland, McKay; Humphrys (Kuol 60).

Referee: Don Robertson.

Attendance: 6,450.