Hearts play­ers’ si­lence speaks vol­umes about team’s fail­ings

The Herald - Sport - - FOOT­BALL - GARY KE­OWN AT FIR PARK


DI­RECT, clin­i­cal and de­liv­ered with­out the most re­mote flicker of sat­is­fac­tion.

This is not Os­man Sow’s spec­tac­u­lar 35-yard ef­fort to se­cure a point for Hearts, equally no­table for the Swede’s re­fusal to in­dulge in any kind of cel­e­bra­tion, that we speak of.

In­stead, it is Cal­lum Pater­son’s ruth­less dis­sec­tion of a sub­stan­dard per­for­mance by his side and his as­ser­tion that ac­tions must speak louder than words if new life is to be breathed into their un­likely chal­lenge for the ti­tle.

In the build-up to this visit to Fir Park, Blazej Au­gustyn had ex­pressed his be­lief that Hearts could win the Lad­brokes Pre­mier­ship. It took less than a minute for the Tynecas­tle club’s cap­tain and cen­tre back to set the tone for an af­ter­noon of de­fen­sive in­ad­e­quacy when putting Louis Moult through on goal with a dread­ful pass back and forc­ing Neil Alexan­der to race from his line to clear.

Within a mat­ter of sec­onds, an­other quite in­ex­pli­ca­ble er­ror had put Rob­bie Neil­son’s side be­hind the eight-ball. Alexan­der dropped a spec­u­la­tive Marvin John­son cross un­der pres­sure from Moult and left the for­mer Wrex­ham for­ward with the sim­ple task of tap­ping home the opener. There were 85 sec­onds on the clock. “It was a ter­ri­ble start,” seethed Pater­son after the fi­nal whis­tle. “I don’t think this team has ever lost a goal that quickly, so it’s dis­ap­point­ing for us, es­pe­cially as we’ve been keep­ing clean sheets re­cently. We’ve not man­aged that in the last two games.

“I didn’t en­joy it at all. It was a bad game, bad per­for­mance, bad weather, bad re­sult, bad ev­ery­thing.

“There were no words in the dress­ing room. Just dis­ap­point­ment. Ev­ery­one knows what they’ve done wrong.

“That’s four points dropped in two games. Peo­ple are say­ing within our team that we can win the ti­tle, but we need to look at that and fig­ure it out.

“We set our stan­dards high. Last year, we won the league with about 20 games to spare and a record points to­tal. That’s the stan­dard we set our­selves to take into this sea­son and, to­day, we haven’t met that.”

Juanma did get Hearts back on level terms quickly when pro­duc­ing a neat ninth-minute fin­ish and both Sow and Pater­son forced de­cent saves from Con­nor Ri­p­ley within the first half hour, but Motherwell had the best of the pos­ses­sion and pun­ished their vis­i­tors again on 65 min­utes thanks, in no small part, to some ex­cel­lent ref­er­ee­ing from Steven McLean.

Juanma had squan­dered a great op­por­tu­nity – fail­ing to hit the tar­get when one-on-one with Ri­p­ley – and Motherwell broke up­field. Scott McDon­ald was taken out by Igor Rossi on the Main Stand touch­line after forc­ing the ball onto John­son, but McLean wisely played the ad­van­tage with Hearts at sixes and sevens.

John­son ad­vanced into the area, wrig­gled clear of Au­gustyn and ri­fled a left-footed shot past Alexan­der and into the far cor­ner. It was only then that McLean booked Rossi for his ear­lier chal­lenge.

As it was, Hearts were still ca­pa­ble of get­ting a re­sult. Sow took a pass from Prince Buaben, who gave the team a lit­tle more com­po­sure after re­plac­ing Danny Swan­son, and un­leashed a re­mark­able ef­fort that flew over Ri­p­ley’s head and al­most left a hole in the net.

In­deed, the vis­i­tors could have won it eight min­utes from time when Sam Ni­chol­son blazed over after Ri­p­ley had par­ried a shot from Juanma into his path. It would have been un­fair on the hosts, though, with Pater­son con­ced­ing that his side’s prob­lems were not re­stricted purely to de­fend­ing.

“We just didn’t pass the ball,” he pointed out. “We just brought our­selves down to play­ing a dif­fer­ent level of foot­ball and ended up kick­ing the ball long, try­ing to win flick-ons. The pitch is no ex­cuse, nei­ther is the weather. It’s down to our­selves. You can’t blame any­one or any­thing else for bad play.”

Con­sid­er­ing this is their first sea­son back in the top di­vi­sion fol­low­ing the dis­as­ter of ad­min­is­tra­tion, Hearts are do­ing well. The new third kit they wore on Satur­day bore the names of the 8,000 sup­port­ers who paid up to help re­con­struct the club and it was a nice touch for the play­ers to walk to the away end and hand those jer­seys to the trav­el­ling sup­port after the fi­nal whis­tle.

In truth, though, they are not go­ing to win the league. It is, to use pop­u­lar foot­balling par­lance, too big an ask. Stephen Pear­son, the for­mer Celtic mid­fielder now re-es­tab­lish­ing him­self in the en­gine room at Motherwell, ad­mits as much.

“I think they are a good side,” he said. “I don’t think they are strong enough yet to chal­lenge Celtic for the ti­tle, but I do think they will be up there with Aberdeen for sec­ond.”

Motherwell, of course, re­main sec­ond bot­tom of the ta­ble and de­serve to be there, but there was enough drive and en­ergy within their side through the likes of John­son, Moult, McDon­ald and Liam Grimshaw to sug­gest that this sea­son need not de­scend into an­other des­per­ate bat­tle to avoid rel­e­ga­tion.

Picture: SNS

SHIRT GES­TURE: Hearts Cal­lum Pater­son throws his top, dec­o­rated with the names of 8,000 sup­port­ers

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