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Stephen Frail <-auth Graham Spiers auth-> Stuart Dougal
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Ross McCormack is on the spot to break Hearts’ brave resistance

Motherwell 1 Hearts 0
Graham Spiers

Motherwell battled through to the fifth round of the Scottish Cup after this raw exchange with Heart of Midlothian at Fir Park, though not before enduring a series of late scares in this fourth-round replay. Having been so elegant in the opening 45 minutes, the home side surely caused their manager, Mark McGhee, considerable anxiety as they invited Hearts to pound their area in the second half.

Hearts, indeed, may have been worthy of a draw, with efforts from Christian Nade and Andrius Velicka late in the game both being desperately blocked in front of goal. As the game truly heated up in the closing stages, Saulius Mikoliunas may have been lucky to stay on the field after appearing to swing a punch. Motherwell went through thanks to Ross McCormack’s first half penalty, but the closing ten minutes proved desperate for them.

In particular, a brave save by Graeme Smith, throwing himself at Nade’s feet when the striker was charging through on goal, was testament both to the home side’s resilience and desperation. When the rumpus was over, Motherwell’s reward was a meeting at home to Dundee in the next round.

The poignancy of these weeks following Phil O’Donnell’s death has probably run its course, though this was Motherwell’s first match back at Fir Park since the tragedy. The moment was summed up sensitively by McGhee in his programme notes.
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“We have all suffered and are still suffering from the tragedy of Phil’s death,” he wrote. “But our period of grief has been balanced by an unbelievable amount of sympathy and support from so many people, and it’s a memory that will stay with me for the rest of my life.” It hardly needs saying again but it is true: this wretched experience has reinforced to many of us the proud institution and great humanity that is Motherwell FC.

Having said that, McGhee was apparently nonplussed last night at being informed by a TV interviewer before the game that he was no longer in the running for the Scotland job. With George Burley now the SFA’s preferred candidate, McGhee, unless there is a last-minute hitch, will now join Tommy Burns and Graeme Souness among the also-rans for the position.He was said to have grimaced with displeasure at hearing the news. McGhee had, after all, been many’s favourite for the job, perhaps even including himself.

Motherwell spent the first half playing some gorgeous, fluent football, for much of the time swarming around Hearts’ goal. The passing of McGhee’s side was precise and relentless, and Hearts were soon quite disorientated by it. Thus the home side’s lead after 21 minutes was nothing if not thoroughly deserved McCormack’s shot inside the area struck the raised arm of Eggert Jonsson, and Stuart Dougal, the referee, immediately gave the penalty. It was one of those judgments that required a strong nerve from a referee, the counter always being that the ball played the man. In truth, Hearts hardly raised a protest, and McCormack himself sent a firm penalty past Steve Banks.

Hearts were a miserable lot for much of this game, and it stung their interim manager, Stevie Frail, into some remedial surgery around his team. Nade, a mystery of a French striker if ever there was one, came on for Deividas Cesnauskis, who had contributed little. Nade has often looked a brooding, lazy character since pitching up at Tynecastle, and perhaps he felt he was owed Hearts last night. Whatever his impulse, he threw himself into these proceedings, hounding Motherwell from the restart and providing Hearts with a bristling energy. But it was still another recently-lauded striker who missed the visiting team’s best chance of the match after 62 minutes.

Velicka missed a golden opportunity to equalise after Mark Reynolds had allowed the ball to slip under his foot in his own area. From seven yards, and only at a slight angle, Velicka’s shot beat Smith but rebounded back off the post.

Motherwell (4-3-3): G Smith – P Quinn, S Craigan, M Reynolds, J Paterson – K Lasley, S Hughes, M Fitzpatrick – R McCormack, C Porter (sub: D Smith, 44min), D Clarkson. Substitutes not used: C Meldrum, B McLean, M Archdeacon, J Murphy. Booked: Lasley, Quinn.

Heart of Midlothian (4-2-3-1): S Banks – R Neilson, C Karipidis, C Berra, J Goncalves – E Jonsson, R Palazuelos – S Mikoliunas, M Stewart, D Cesnauskis (sub: C Nade, 45) – A Velicka. Substitutes not used: H Buernsson, R Beniusis, L Wallace, K Ivaskevicius. Booked: Neilson, Mikoliunas, Johnsson.

Referee: S Dougal.

Taken from

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