London Hearts Supporters Club

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<-Srce <-Type Scotsman ------ Report Type-> Srce->
Csaba Laszlo <-auth Stuart Bathgate auth-> Brian Winter
[S Hughes 76]
6 of 019 Andrew Driver 50 ;Ruben Palazuelos 92 L SPL H

Palazuelos strengthens Hearts' hold on third spot

HEARTS were always going to remain in third place no matter the result of this match, but going into stoppage time their hopes of holding on to that position in the longer term were about to be dealt a blow.
Andy Driver had given them the lead, but Stephen Hughes' equaliser looked like stretching Motherwell's unbeaten league run to ten games.

Then Robbie Neilson took a long throw-in, as he had done for Driver's goal. The Motherwell defence cleared it, but only as far as Ruben Palazuelos, and the Spaniard scored the winner with a dipping shot from the edge of the box.

Csaba Laszlo's side are again five points clear of Dundee United, as they were before the midweek round of fixtures. Motherwell have now fallen out of the top six, but must still be favoured over Hibernian and Hamilton to end up in the top half come the split.

After an undistinguished start in which both sides were slow to find their rhythm, Motherwell were first to threaten on the night through Cillian Sheridan, but the striker pulled his shot harmlessly wide of Janos Balogh's goal. That seventh-minute attempt signalled the start of a brief period of pressure by the visiting team, but two corners in quick succession were calmly dealt with by the Hearts defence.

Quarter of an hour had elapsed by the time the home side were able to muster any kind of threat to Graeme Smith in the Motherwell goal, and that was only a mild shot-cum-cross from David Obua which wandered wide.

Bruno Aguiar at least forced Smith into making a save moments later after creating space for himself and bearing down on the box, but it was still an uncharacteristically toothless start from Hearts.

Adrian Mrowiec, the lone front man, was willing enough to chase the ball, but he was struggling to get into the game, and his midfielders were unable to link up with him – or indeed with each other – to any real effect. It was a far cry from the entertaining spectacle the two teams had enacted on the opening day of the season, when Hearts won by the odd goal in five.

At last, with half an hour gone, the match burst into life. A corner from the left by Jim O'Brien was punched clear by Balogh, but only as far as Stephen Hughes. The midfielder took the ball first time, as it rose, but his shot came back off the crossbar.

A late tackle on Maros Klimpl saw Mrowiec become the first man to be booked. Laszlo had seen enough of the makeshift striker, and swiftly replaced him with Christian Nade, who had missed the weekend win at Tannadice through suspension.

Motherwell had a penalty claim waved away when Sheridan went down too easily under a challenge by Christos Karipidis. The pass deep into the box had been delivered by Hughes, who was one of the few players to emerge with any credit from a turgid first half. Another was Lee Wallace, whose raking shot just a minute before the break was deflected for a corner, which came to nothing.

There were no changes in personnel from either manager at the interval, but there was a marked alteration in the degree of urgency shown by Hearts when the second half began, and it took them only four minutes to go ahead. Neilson's long throw-ins often trouble the opposition defence, but rarely have they caused so much confusion as this one did. Propelled in from the right, close to the corner flag, the ball evaded half a dozen defenders and appeared to be heading straight into the arms of Smith.

Before the keeper could gather it, however, Driver nipped in to take it on the bounce with his head, nodding in from a couple of yards out.

"Are you watching, Craig Levein?" the home support sang. Their former manager, who had incurred their wrath by accusing Hearts of feigning injury to waste time against his Dundee United, was indeed watching, from the main stand.

Having gone ahead, the home side did anything but play for time, opting instead to press on in search of a second goal. Moments after Klimpl had been booked for fouling Driver as the winger tried to burst clear down the right, another break by the same player caused greater trouble for the Motherwell defence. Stephen Craigan marshalled Driver well, however, and when the shot did come it hit the side netting.

An on-target shot by Klimpl was then easily enough saved by Balogh, but it showed that Motherwell were by no means a spent force. They showed as much not long after, when Hughes equalised in controversial circumstances.

There was no disputing the quality of the strike, which was hit first time from more than 20 yards out after Nade had headed out a Steven Hammell free-kick. But there was doubt about the award itself, given after what had looked like an accidental clash in the air between Nade and Craigan.

The Motherwell captain was stretchered off and replaced by Darren Smith for a closing quarter-hour which was largely uneventful. Then came stoppage time and Palazuelos's late intervention.

Hearts: Balogh, Neilson, Mrowiec (Nade 34), Jonsson, Lee Wallace, Palazuelos, Aguiar (Elliot 89), Karipidis, Stewart, Driver (Mikoliunas 90), Obua. Subs not used: Kello, Cesnauskis, Thomson, Park. Booked: Mrowiec

Motherwell: Graeme Smith, Brian McLean, Craigan (Darren Smith 75), Reynolds, Hammell, O'Brien, Hughes, Klimpl, Sheridan, Clarkson (McGarry 69), Sutton. Subs: Krysiak, Malcolm, Murphy, Lasley, McGarry, Aydilek. Booked: Klimpl

Taken from the Scotsman

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