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<-Page <-Team Sat 26 Nov 2005 Motherwell 1 Hearts 1 Team-> Page->
<-Srce <-Type Observer ------ Report Type-> Srce->
Graham Rix <-auth Patrick Glenn auth-> Iain Brines
[B McLean 40]
15 of 025 Paul Hartley pen 90 L SPL A

Hartley saves ragged and fearful Hearts

Patrick Glenn at Fir Park
Sunday November 27, 2005
The Observer

His appointment as coach having been met with widespread disapproval from Hearts fans, the last thing Graham Rix needed was to see his championship aspirants drop four points in his first two matches.

Following the 1-1 draw at Aberdeen last week, this would have been worse but for the late penalty kick that allowed Paul Hartley to equalise Brian McLean's first-half opener for Motherwell.

However, the raggedness of Hearts' performance will not have impressed supporters or critics, even if the shock defeat of Celtic by Dunfermline allowed the Edinburgh side to reduce the gap between themselves and the leaders to one point.

Returning to a venue where they have failed to win in six visits over the past three-and-a-half years, Hearts seemed for long periods of the match to be overcome by a trepidation to which their supporters in this glowing season have been unaccustomed.

This was something of a curiosity, since most of the members of the present Tynecastle side would be unfamiliar with the history and should have been unaffected by whatever diminishing effect a visit to Fir Park may have had on their predecessors.

It is more likely that their general uncertainty derived from the unfamiliarity of their 4-5-1 formation, with the largely untried 18-year-old Calum Elliot as the nominated lone striker. This was the penalty imposed by the enforced absences through injury of Edgaras Jankauskas and Michel Pospisil.

Another regular first-pick forward, Roman Bednar, has just returned to training after a knee injury that has kept him inactive since the victory over Rangers at Tynecastle nine weeks ago, when he scored the only goal of the game. Bednar's confinement to the substitutes' bench until he replaced Saul Mikoliunas in the 62nd minute testified to his basic unreadiness.

By the time Motherwell took the lead, their visitors had betrayed their general bewilderment with a series of poorly executed passes in nearly every area of the field, but most notably in the vicinity of the home penalty area on the few occasions on which they moved into promising positions.

Motherwell were contrastingly forceful, if not much more coherent in their forward thrusts, leading to a generally uneventful 39 minutes before McLean scored. It began with Andy Webster's challenge on Jim Hamilton, giving the home side a free-kick 25 yards out.

Brian Kerr slipped the ball to Hamilton on the right and his shot was pulled off target but took a deflection and headed straight to the right foot of McLean, who drilled it over the line from seven yards.

Unsurprisingly, Rix sought more strength in attack by replacing the holding midfielder, Julien Brellier, with Stephen Simmons at the start of the second half. Simmons is himself a midfield player, but can play as a forward, although rarely with the effect of those who are more comfortable in the role.

Bednar's arrival a little later coincided with a resurgence of aggressive spirit in the Hearts team, but without the scoring opportunities to match.

When Rudi Skacel suddenly found himself free of a challenge as the ball dropped to him on the left side of the penalty box, his powerful drive was charged down by the alert and quick Alan McCormack.

Skacel had earlier been cautioned - one of a flurry of yellow cards in a short period from referee Ian Brines - for an alleged dive when he was tackled inside the Motherwell area by Richie Foran. There were claims from the visitors for a penalty that may have been slightly frivolous, but there seemed little doubt that the Czech midfielder had not gone to ground of his own volition.

Hearts would have another sound penalty claim turned down before the referee finally relented with McLean's ill-judged lunge at Webster as the Hearts defender pushed forward to help in the quest for an equaliser. It was provided by Hartley's composed, low drive far to the right of Graeme Smith.

Man of the match Brian McLean - his goal relieved the tedium.

Referee I Brines - too many bad decisions.

Taken from the Guardian/Observer

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