Football: Slick Spencer hurts Hearts

Heart of Midlothian 1 McSwegan 8 Motherwell 1 Spencer 83 Half- time: 1-0 Attendance: 12,514
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The Independent Online
A TALE of two strikers provided Craig Brown and everyone else at Tynecastle with an engrossing afternoon, yet he will hope it is his current choice who can write Scotland's ticket to the European Championship finals.

A repeat of Gary McSwegan's predatory talents against England would beckon Euro 2000 closer, but the Hearts goalscorer's eighth-minute opener was deservedly cancelled out seven minutes from the end by yesterday's man, John Spencer, who suffered disappointment that day at Wembley in Euro 96.

The last time these teams had met the encounter had been abandoned in a September monsoon. However, Edinburgh's glorious sunshine ensured there was little chance of a repeat and Gary McSwegan soon illuminated Tynecastle even further. The Scotland striker displayed the kind of predatory instinct Brown, the Scotland manager who was watching from the stand, would love next Saturday as he headed Hearts in front.

McSwegan, though, owed much to Steve Fulton's incisive pass and Gary Naysmith's determined run to the goal-line before the latter delivered a sublime cross which invited the former Rangers striker to smack the ball beyond Steve Woods.

Ironically, Hearts are trying to bolster their strikeforce and have made a pounds 550,000 bid for a man at the other end, Lee McCulloch. The Motherwell forward soon began to hog everyone's attention. He was booked for crashing into Gary Locke, and was then rashly floored on the edge of the box by Paul Ritchie, allowing Ged Brannan to curl a low free-kick round the wall which the home goalkeeper, Gilles Rousset, splendidly pushed clear.

However, Rousset's poor kickout in the 33rd minute almost proved costly, as Pat Nevin cleverly volleyed the ball into McCulloch's path, but the French goalkeeper atoned by parrying the striker's fierce shot.

Motherwell's pursuit of an equaliser in the second half was relentless, and Hearts could scarcely draw breath. The relief was tangible around Tynecastle in the 49th minute when McCulloch connected with Nevin's cross to produce a diving header which flew past Rousset but crashed off a post and stayed out.

Motherwell, though, summoned up one last effort and Spencer finally grabbed a merited equaliser with seven minutes left. Benito Kemble's 40-yard diagonal pass was the key, allowing Stephen McMillan to deliver a low cross into the stretched Hearts defence.

Spencer pounced and hit a shot on the turn which ought not to have beaten Rousset, but the keeper had gone down too early and the ball agonisingly looped over him into the net.