Butcher's aces deal Hearts yet another defeat

Motherwell 2 - Heart of Midlothian 0
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The Independent Football

Any cup can be a flirtatious mistress but Motherwell finally put the distractions of their own silverware obsession to bed yesterday at Fir Park by securing their first Scottish Premier League win of 2005.

Any cup can be a flirtatious mistress but Motherwell finally put the distractions of their own silverware obsession to bed yesterday at Fir Park by securing their first Scottish Premier League win of 2005.

The run to the club's first cup final in 14 years coincided with a slide down the table, but how Terry Butcher must wish his side could play Hearts every week. This was their fourth win of the campaign against the Edinburgh side, including the dramatic extra-time victory three weeks earlier that delivered a place in next month's Scottish League Cup final.

Fine first-half goals from Scott McDonald and Marc Fitzpatrick handed Hearts their first League defeat in seven games and dented their hopes of a Uefa Cup place.

These are heady days at Motherwell and they are testimony to the work Butcher has put in over the last three years. Then, the only people queuing up outside Fir Park were creditors. Yesterday, it was for tickets for the final on 20 March against Rangers.

Hearts came seeking revenge for that League Cup semi-final defeat three weeks earlier. Yet it quickly became apparent that they would not be given the scope to employ the flowing football that has underpinned their recent fine run.

Indeed, Motherwell posed the greater threat and ought to have been ahead after 12 minutes when they earned a penalty. McDonald eased in front of Lee Wallace to reach Jim Hamilton's pass and was brought down by the Hearts teenager. However, Hamilton demanded to take the kick, wrestling his colleague Kevin McBride for it, only to see a tame effort easily saved by Craig Gordon.

McDonald came close soon after with a shot on the turn that flew narrowly wide but the little Australian striker finally broke the deadlock in the 25th minute as he procured his 10th goal of the season. Steven Hammell's burst into the box caused the damage and though Gordon parried his fierce shot, the Scotland goalkeeper could not prevent McDonald from burying the rebound with an angled drive.

Gordon denied McDonald another goal by touching the striker's shot wide but six minutes before the interval, Hearts fell further behind. Fitzpatrick seized on Steven Pressley's error and surged into the area before doggedly creating space for a left-foot shot that flew past Gordon. Hearts raised their tempo in the second half but it was still Gordon who was the busier goalkeeper. He produced a fine save to grasp Jim Paterson's volley in the 54th minute and then eclipsed that a minute later to touch Hamilton's looping header over the bar.

Mark Burchill's introduction injected some greater energy into Hearts' attempts to score and the former Portsmouth striker almost reduced the deficit in the 68th minute but Gordon Marshall saved bravely at Burchill's feet as Lee Miller whipped in a dangerous cross.

Butcher, who recently signed a new long-term contract because he recalled his mentor, Sir Bobby Robson, doing something similar at Ipswich in their successful collaboration in the late 1970s, has taken to drinking red wine in the manager's office after victories. He must be glad his League drought is now over.

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