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Craig Levein <-auth Mark Woods auth-> Charlie Richmond
[D Adams 29]
2 of 005 Paul Hartley 45 L SPL A

Hartley gets Hearts out of a jam as Motherwell let it all slip away


Mark Woods

COMING off their brilliant bamboozling of Bosnians, there was always a danger that foxing Fir Park’s finest would provide Hearts with an unwanted hangover yesterday. And back in the domestic fray, so it proved Craig Levein’s European adventurers unable to maul Motherwell in similar fashion in a contest which grew less appetising with every passing minute.

The hosts though were under acute scrutiny in the wake of Tuesday’s embarrassing CIS Cup exit to Forfar. Yet Terry Butcher clearly has faith in this current youthful group. And in youth in general. Writing in the match programme, he pled publicly for parents of prodigies to consider this corner of Lanarkshire for their son’s footballing further education on the grounds that they would "have the best possible chance of first team action at a much earlier stage than any other club in Britain".

That might, to a cynical eye, smack of desperation from someone whose resources are so bare that he has no alternative but to throw promising gladiators straight into the lion pit of the SPL. However it must be only positive for turks like striking duo David Clarkson and Steven Craig to know that patience is a virtue here as Butcher refused to alter his vanquished line-up from midweek.

His faith was repaid as his charges obtained a hard-won point. On a pitch which bled water after a Lanarkshire monsoon, commendably his team - like their guests - initially attempted to defy the elements and play a neat brand of passing football until the combination of sheer necessity and needlessly zealous officiating turned the contest into an untidy duel. By the end, there was no life left, all excitement enjoyed -if such a term was applicable - in the two first half strikes from Derek Adams and Paul Hartley, both cooked up on the training field rather than sourced in spontaneity.

Phil Stamp, restored after missing the win over Zeljeznicar through illness, was presented with the earliest opportunity. Picking up a set piece just outside the area, he attempted a dainty flick up in the air before volleying well wide, suggesting that any illusions of a move to the Bernabeu should swiftly be culled.

Steven Hammell, to some degree, shows some capacity to bend it like You Know Who however. As Well belatedly settled, the young defender lined up a free kick 25 metres out and curled it towards the top left-hand corner. Tepi Moilanen, tested for the first time, stepped over to push the danger away.

Hearts, vanquished 6-1 on their last visit to these parts, threatened next when Dennis Wyness deceived Martyn Corrigan and swept into the box. His shot was lame, Marshall gathering and with Andy Webster earning himself a booking for felling Keith Lasley as the hosts chased upfield, Hammell was handed a nigh identical chance. Bend it like last time, he thought, and it so nearly coiled enough, Moilanen forced on this occasion to fling himself at full stretch to palm around the post.

Patrick Kisnorbo was proving a busy presence down the right. The Australian was involved in a brief skirmish with Clarkson which earned the teenager a caution and in the 28th minute, he felled Craig to hand Butcher’s men a free kick in dangerous territory. Not content with that, he managed to claim some involvement as Motherwell dully snatched the lead, Adams’ ferocious strike appearing to clip off Kisnorbo’s outstretched leg as it sped through a crowded area and inside Moilanen’s near post.

Motherwell celebrated as the Jambos’ rearguard looked on perplexed. Yet it was appropriate punishment for their failure to remain calm in the face of vigorous pressure emanating from the host’s midfield. Four minutes before the interval, Hearts’ inattention again nearly cost them dear, an astute cross from Corrigan left unchallenged.

It dropped to Lasley who had hopes of capitalising on the space in front of him. Miscuing horribly, fortune favoured Clarkson at the back post who suddenly found himself with both the ball and an unguarded goal at his feet. They remained estranged, inexplicably so, as he clipped into the side netting.

Increasingly tetchy, the boots were flying in from all sides. Scott Leitch picked up the third of six cards for downing Mark De Vries 30 metres out and as injury time ticked off, the Fir Park skipper was left to rue his indiscipline as Hearts notched up a timely equaliser. It was Hartley who let fly and although Marshall was well placed, the keeper’s outstretched arms buckled under the power of the strike.

The second half was rarely pretty, a plucky run from Wyness at its outset which saw the former Inverness marksman elude two defenders before connecting with the post proving wholly atypical.

Kisnorbo, Stamp and De Vries then followed each other into Charlie Richmond’s notebook in quick succession but otherwise, both sides were equally matched, the stalemate ground out amid unrelenting mediocrity. Marshall denied a stinging Stamp drive in the final minute to earn some personal redemption but a point each was fitting.

Motherwell: Marshall; Corrigan, Pearson, Craigan, Hammell; Lasley, Adams, Leitch (Fagan 83), Partridge; Craig, Clarkson.

Hearts: Moilanen; Kisnorbo, Pressley, Webster, Maybury; Severin, MacFarlane, Stamp, Hartley (Hamill 49); De Vries (McKenna 77), Wyness (Weir 77).

Referee: C. Richmond

Taken from the Scotsman

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