Terry Butcher declared before this encounter that Heart of Midlothian could split Celtic and Rangers this season but his tigerish Motherwell side put a dent in that prediction at Fir Park yesterday.
The Edinburgh club could have gone to the top of the Scottish Premier League - albeit for 24 hours until the Old Firm derby - had they won but a penalty from Kevin McBride and a sumptuous volley from Phil O'Donnell inflicted a first defeat of the season on Hearts.
Worryingly for the Scotland manager Berti Vogts, his central defence pair of Steven Pressley and Andy Webster were shredded ahead of Friday's friendly international against Spain in Valencia. If Scott McDonald and David Clarkson could wreak such havoc, what will Raul and Fernando Morientes do?
As you would expect from two sides who drew three of their four league encounters last season, this was a taut contest. Butcher and Craig Levein have a reputation for organisation and that was underlined as their teams closed each other down.
It was 25 minutes before either had a glimpse of goal, and even then Clarkson's touch betrayed him after he had done so well to open up Hearts with an inventive chip over the defence before collecting the ball, the goalkeeper Craig Gordon denying him.
Motherwell finally began to prise Hearts open in an impressive period before the interval, with Scott McDonald's forceful runs inducing panic. The former Southampton striker's measured cut-back on 31 minutes was poised to be finished off by Clarkson until Alan Maybury intervened with a clearance.
Kevin McBride's fine free-kick from the left wing seemed perfect for Ritchie Foran to find the net, but the Motherwell striker's header sailed over. Yet, it was Hearts who came closest to breaking the deadlock, as Patrick Kisnorbo lunged in to meet Michael Stewart's cross seconds before half-time but it struck the outside of the post.
Motherwell seized control early in the second half. McDonald came close with a deft lob over Gordon before O'Donnell's driving run created an opening for Clarkson, although O'Donnell could not force in the raking cross.
It was only a matter of time, and Motherwell broke the deadlock in the 59th minute when McBride scored from the penalty spot. It was fitting that the youngster, who is on loan from Celtic, should be given the chance because his driving run was cynically halted by Pressley before McDonald's teasing free-kick into the box saw Robbie Nielson foolishly hold down O'Donnell. The composed McBride squeezed his spot kick past Gordon.
Hearts lost the plot after that. Pressley and Webster collected bookings, frustrated at the runaround they were being given. Things got worse in the 67th minute when O'Donnell fired home from McBride's inswinging corner. It was cleared by a Hearts head to the back of the box and volleyed past Gordon into the roof of the net.Reuse content