Hearts 3 Motherwell 2
A winning start to the season looked to have been snatched away with just nine minutes remaining, when David Clarkson’s deflected shot found its way past Steve Banks in goal. However, just one minute late, substitute Saulius Mikoliunas won the game for Hearts with a fabulous strike with the outside of his foot.
Christos Karipidis started in an unfamiliar defensive midfield role and did not look too out of place. Of the three first choice centre backs at the club, Karipidis is the best with the ball at his feet and seems more suited than Marius Zaliukas, who on so many occasions in the past has been shoehorned into this position at the expense of one of our natural central midfield players.
Jamie Mole was the lone striker with Audrius Ksanavicius playing just behind. In the first half they both linked up well with midfielders Michael Stewart, Larry Kingston and Andy Driver as Hearts took the game to Motherwell. For the first ten minutes Hearts got the ball down and knocked it about with Kingston and Driver looking the most likely to make things happen. Motherwell then had their spell and after twenty minutes no team had really tested the opposition goalkeeper. Motherwell stopper Graeme Smith did save a one-on-one from Ksanavicius, although the play was brought back for an earlier infringement.
Motherwell stuck with their 4-3-3 formation that helped them earn a third place finish last season but they struggled to really trouble the Hearts defence. Keith Lasley looked lively in midfield and Steven McGarry was having some joy against Jason Thomson.
Hearts made their pressure pay when the Motherwell defence, notably Paul Quinn, failed to deal with a long ball from Banks. Quick one-touch passing between Ksanavicius and Driver found Stewart through on goal and he remained composed and slotted the ball nicely past Smith. The guarded optimism expressed by Stewart in his interview after last week’s match against Hull, and felt in throughout the home support, was lifted temporarily during the celebrations.
The goal spurred Motherwell on and the away side were rewarded just eight minutes after going behind. Motherwell won a throw level with the 18-yard box and Stevie Hammell took it quickly finding Stephen Hughes, who had made a bursting run. He drove to the by-line and cut the ball back for Clarkson, who done well to get ahead of Berra and Wallace to give himself an east tap-in.
Two men at fault for the goal were Kingston and Zaliukas. Kingston needs to be more alert to the man he is marking; and even if his man gets away from him, as Hughes did, he should continue chasing him. Instead he just gave up. When Hughes received the ball, Zaliukas hesitated and was left for dead. He should have had the bravery to put the ball in the stand for another throw.
Seven minutes later, Hearts found themselves in front again. Another long ball, this time from Berra was flicked on by Kingston and both Reynolds and his central defensive partner Craigan failed to deal with it. Ksanavicius was brave to hinder Craigan’s ability to head clear, then to stab the ball into the net before the on-rushing Smith could get there, taking a knock in the process. He shows incredible skill at times, although is terribly inconsistent, but for his position he just doesn’t score enough. That’s two goals in two games now, albeit one was in a friendly match.
Hearts lost Driver to injury early into the second half and he was replaced by the less effective Devidas Cesnauskis. Had he not left the field, Driver could have gone on to become man-of-the-match. Every time he received the ball he looked to take men on and almost always put in a dangerous cross. The one thing we lacked was anyone to get on the end of them.
Motherwell then brought on Marc Fitzpatrick to replace Bob Malcolm before he was sent off and began to have a spell in the match, again without really troubling Banks. They were gifted an opportunity when Hearts substitute Juho Makela’s horrendous first touch allowed the Lanarkshire side to break. Reynolds found Clarkson at the edge of the box and the ball fell nicely for him after Zaliukas blocked his attempted pass. His shot hit Berra’s foot on the way in but actually took the ball closer to Banks, who made no attempt to dive.
With George Burley in the stands, Clarkson has done his Scotland chances no harm with his two goals here, after scoring on his international debut earlier in the year. He could have scored more than the two he did today if he had taken his chances. He was inches away with a volley from the edge of the box in the first half and had an attempt at 3-2 that if he had connected with would have caused Banks problems.
After looking like we would see the match out for the majority of the second half, we were instantly brought back down to earth by the equaliser with less than ten minutes remaining.
Something we were certainly not notorious for last season was keeping our heads up, and even less so for replying instantly, but this is how events unfolded this time. Within a minute Stewart, like he had done for most of the match, showed excellent fight and determination to win the ball from Fitzpatrick and his through ball, although intended for Makela, found its way to Mikoliunas, himself only on the field for five minutes, who continued his run from the right into the box and sent a rasping shot into the top corner of Smith’s near post.
Miko was rewarded for his selfishness, he had two players at the back post that he maybe should have picked out, and he gambled on being either the hero or the villain of the day. It was a top quality finish and after a difficult four years at Tynecastle hopefully he can continue and we can finally get the best out of the Lithuanian international.
That goal proved to be the winner and after the match, Csaba Laszlo came onto the pitch to congratulate his players. When he approached Makela however, he made clear what he thought of his efforts regarding the second Motherwell goal. It was probably just as well that Makela didn’t get on to the end of Stewarts pass for Miko’s winning goal as if he had fluffed that Csaba might have decked him after the match.
Overall it was a great performance, considering it is the same group of players as last year with not one new addition. We showed fight, determination and spirit that was also in absence last year and this was evidence by our ability to go ahead three times in the match. I was low at 2-2. A draw was just not going to be the same; we needed the three points to show we are back.
I am not getting carried away, we are not back yet. It is a long season and like I mentioned, apart from Obua who was unavailable for the match, we have the same squad of players as last year. We still need a couple more recruitments but hopefully this victory shows that Csaba is able to get more out of the players at the club than the previous couple of managers have.
Steve Banks “ given no chance with first goal but I thought he could have attempted to dive for the second. There was one other dodgy moment when he failed to collect the ball at Porter’s feet and almost handled outside the box. 6
Jason Thomson “ Was solid defensively for most of the match but is one of the players in the side who are not too comfortable with the ball at his feet. However, he did make an effort to find a teammate’s feet and didn’t resort to long ball too often.7
Marius Zaliukas “ One of the players at fault for the first Motherwell goal but defended excellently other than that. Showed a willingness to get forward and even had a long range effort saved well by Graeme Smith. 7
Christophe Berra “ Excellent performance. The captain was vocal throughout and I don’t remember much getting past him. One thing that bothers me is he is still prone to lumping the ball up the park, rather than to find a pass. But then again we scored as a result of one. 8
Lee Wallace “ One of the poorer performers. He was caught out on a couple of occasions but eager, and more able, to get forward than fellow full back Thomson. A run in the side could really be what Wallace needs to finally progress into the player he has shown the potential to be. 6
Larry Kingston “ Was excellent for the first 10 minutes but slowly faded out of the game after that. Tried to do too much on a few occasions early in the match and chose the wrong final pass once or twice. Faded in the second half until he was replaced by Miko. 7
Michael Stewart “ MOTM performance from Stewart. His first touch and vision were immense and his passing, which I questioned pre-match, was first class. Terrific energy and after his early yellow card, may have been sent off in similar circumstances had it been last season. 9
Christos Karipidis “ Unfamiliar role but faced up to it well. Sat and protected the defence while Stewart was allowed to get forward. Is a good ball winner and decent will the ball at his feet so was suited to the position, but I’d still prefer him at centre half. 7
Andy Driver “ Most exciting player in a Hearts jersey. Looked to take men on every time he received the ball and almost always got a dangerous cross into the box, or across the face of goal. If he had played the whole match he could easily have gone on to be the man of the match. 8
Audrius Ksanavicius “ shows some signs of brilliance but not often enough. Was brave in taking his goal and linked up with other attacking players well. Was missed when substituted but this was due to his replacement Makela being woeful. 8
Jamie Mole “ After a nervy start things began to work for him. His work rate was first class and he never stopped running, he has pace and ran into channels all afternoon. Contender for MOTM, even though I don’t remember him having a shot at goal. 9
Devidas Cesnauskis “ Replaced the injured Driver on 70 minutes and was pretty quiet. 5
Juho Makela “ Made some neat passes when he first came on but was at fault for second Motherwell goal. Also showed a similar first touch when given a chance to finish the game at 3-2. 4
Saulius Mikoliunas “ Amazing strike to win the game and made excellent run to track back and win ball on another occasion, something Kingston doesn’t do. 8
The highlights can be seen on the BBC website here