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

Precious point could be vital come May day


IF ever any evidence was needed to demonstrate just what a funny old game football is, it was there for all to see at Fir Park.

Still struggling to adapt to the demands of new boss Graham Rix, Hearts were outplayed by Motherwell on Saturday.

They barely deserved to take anything from the match yet were handed a precious point courtesy of an injury-time penalty from Paul Hartley, Motherwell scorer Brian McLean having needlessly fouled Andy Webster in the box. With the stadium clock having already ticked past 90 minutes, the Scotland midfielder marched forward to put himself on the spot and coolly send Graeme Smith the wrong way to cancel out McLean's first-half opener.

Coming when the game looked to have gone from the visitors, the share of the spoils was an unexpected bonus for the Jambos. And the afternoon soon got even better for Rix's men as by the time they had reached the dressing-room, news had already filtered through of the stunning events which had unfolded at Parkhead.

Instead of losing ground on leaders Celtic, who had been expected to stroll to a comfortable victory over struggling Dunfermline, Hearts discovered they had actually closed the gap on the Glasgow giants.

Gordon Strachan's in-form side had slumped to a shock home defeat at the hands of the Pars, Greg Ross's first-half strike causing one of the upsets of the season.

Rix's disappointment at the standard of performance was therefore tempered considerably by the fact that the Gorgie outfit had edged to within a point of the high-flying Hoops.

Although third-placed Hibs were the main beneficiaries of the weekend's results - their 2-1 win over Rangers yesterday seeing them move to within three points of their arch rivals - the significance of Hearts' latest escape may only become apparent once the dust has settled on the current campaign in early May.

Given Celtic's loss, Hearts could have leapfrogged them back to the summit of the SPL with victory on Saturday. Rix, though, sounded satisfied at just taking something from the game after a performance which must rank as one of their poorest of the season.

"In the end it was a good result for us and it could still be a very big point for us at the end of the season," he said.

"With all due respect to Dunfermline I was surprised to hear they had beaten Celtic. Just last week people were saying that would be Celtic pulling away from us but this week we have gained a point on them and as I said, it could be a crucial one which we earned at Fir Park.

"You always want to win every game. But we have played two tough away matches now and have come through them unbeaten."

Rix could well have emerged with nothing from his first two matches at the helm - the point at Pittodrie was dug out last Sunday by a vastly-improved second-half display.

Saturday's first half was worse and a better team could well have punished Hearts more severely. Although a change in the system after the break prompted something of a revival, Hearts never looked like registering their first win over the Steelmen in Lanarkshire since March 2002.

Whirlwind starts to games were a hallmark of the Jambos' performances earlier in the season but, since Rix's arrival, lacklustre openings have left his side on the back foot. It's a concern for the former England midfielder, who can now at least look forward to a couple of home games against Livingston and Inverness Caley Thistle.

"It is a worry, as we need to play for 90 minutes to compete in any game," he said.

"We spoke beforehand about the importance of starting strongly, winning tackles and imposing ourselves on the game. The last two weeks the players haven't done that. Having said that they have come out in the second half and shown tremendous spirit, a determination not to get beaten and a willingness to work hard for each other.

"Rather than look at the negatives I have to take the positives out of it. It is not easy to go to Aberdeen or Motherwell but we have taken a point from each."

With Edgar Jankauskas sidelined by a hamstring injury, Rix sprang a surprise by dropping Czech front man Michal Pospisil in favour of 18-year-old Calum Elliot as the lone striker against 'Well.

However, the 4-5-1 formation never clicked and the visitors only came into the game after Stephen Simmons replaced Julien Brellier at half-time with Rix opting for a better-balanced 4-4-2 line-up.

"We weren't happy again with the first half but we had to play the way we did because of the personnel available," said the Tynecastle head coach.

"If it had been a cup final, Edgar could have played but there was a possibility of him pulling his hamstring and being out for seven or eight weeks and that was something I couldn't risk.

"Roman has been out for two months and trained for just four days so I had to be fair to him as well.

"That left us with one recognised striker in young Calum, who put in a great shift. We realised at half-time that he needed support up there and once again the boys responded and were much better in the second half."

The hosts went ahead six minutes from the break when they capitalised on a free-kick conceded by Andy Webster some 25 yards from goal. Instead of shooting, Brian Kerr played it down the right of the defensive wall to Jim Hamilton. His cross picked out McLean at the back post and he converted past Craig Gordon from close range.

There was precious little goalmouth action in the second period, although Robbie Neilson had a decent claim for a penalty turned down after he went down in the box under a challenge from Paul Quinn two minutes from time.

The Hearts fans heading for the exits may have thought that was their last chance of salvaging something from the game. McLean, though, handed the Jambos a lifeline with his clumsy foul on Webster as the game moved into stoppage time, the award by referee Ian Brines one of the few important decisions he got correct all afternoon.

"We'd rather get a point than nothing at all," said goalscorer Hartley. "But we were kicking ourselves after hearing the surprise result from Parkhead.

"Last week we didn't start the game too well and the same thing happened at Fir Park. The last two weeks have been disappointing but we've only got ourselves to blame. The manager is trying to get his ideas across but he's stressing we have to start games well."

Taken from the Scotsman

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