Football: Hearts hold on to their nerve

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The Independent Online
Motherwell. . . . . . . . 1

Foster og 44

Heart of Midlothian. . . .1

Robertson 4

Attendance: 7,009

THE question marks against Motherwell's ability to sustain a challenge for the Scottish Premier Division title were nearly answered yesterday. Having avoided the catalogue of injuries that placed their Premier Division existence in jeopardy last season, Motherwell's resources were stretched for the match with Hearts.

The absence of the pounds 2m-rated Phil O'Donnell and his fellow midfielder Paul Lambert created a vacuum in the centre which the Motherwell boss, Tommy McLean, tried to fill with his two full-backs. This left a void in the defence, adding uncertainty to an area that has been the foundation of the team's success this season.

Hearts, who need points now for their Premier Division survival, exploited the gaps but by the end of the 90 minutes the Edinburgh team were clinging desperately to a point. The Tynecastle cause was not helped by the dismissal of Neil Berry, sent off for his second bookable offence eight minutes from time.

From then until the final whistle, Motherwell strove for the second point that their resolute second-half performance merited. An injury-time snap shot by Tommy Coyne, which drifted agonisingly past the post, would not only have hoisted his side into second top spot but would have underlined the strength of their challenge with or without their most valuable asset.

Earlier, such a climax had looked beyond Motherwell, who displayed some careless passing in the opening 15 minutes. After only four minutes, Miodrag Krivokapic effortlessly gave possession to Tosh McKinlay, whose cross was guided beyond Sieb Dykstra's reach by John Robertson with a sniper's precision.

By midway through the half, however, Motherwell had found their feet, although their top scorer, Dougie Arnott, fired two half-volleys over the bar from a good position. Just when it looked as if Hearts would hold on to their lead until the interval, a bizarre own goal deprived them of their advantage. An in-swinging corner from Rob McKinnon, whose left foot bothered Hearts all afternoon, was met by the head of Wayne Foster, who could only watch as the ball deflected off Alan McLaren and into the goal.

This gave Motherwell the necessary lift for the second half, but they only succeeded in passing up a series of good chances. Hearts were indebted to Henry Smith, who on a quiet afternoon pulled off a superb save to deprive Chris McCart and keep the scores level.

His opposite number, Dykstra, who had little to do after the fourth minute, was equally athletic when he hoisted his 6ft 5in frame to the top corner to palm away a back-header from Maurice Johnston.