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Stephen Frail <-auth Ewan Murray auth-> Stuart Dougal
[R McCormack pen 22]
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McCormack seals Motherwell progress on emotional night

Ewan Murray at Fir Park
Wednesday January 23, 2008
The Guardian

Neutral onlookers will unquestionably point to a sense of justice if Motherwell collect tangible reward for their efforts this season but sentiment alone does not win football matches. A fierce cup tie, notable far more for its closely-fought nature than any outbreaks of flowing football, resulted in Motherwell securing their passage to the fifth round of the Scottish Cup at the expense of Hearts, who will wonder just how it is that last night's opponents, and not themselves, who will host Dundee at the last 16 stage.

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A single goal, midway through the opening period, was sufficient for victory, but Hearts' domination of the second half alone merited more than they ultimately retrieved. Motherwell, whose football in the Premier League has been a joy to behold at times in this campaign, proved they can also win ugly.

This match was Motherwell's first at Fir Park since the tragic death of their captain, Phil O'Donnell, here during a game against Dundee United on December 29. Mark McGhee, the club's manager, has been adamant that, amid a sense of mourning which has engulfed the entire Scottish football community, sporting occasions such as these should serve as a tribute to O'Donnell's life.

The Motherwell players once again wore shirts with a copy of his autograph stitched into the chest last night. McGhee used his programme notes to remind everyone that Motherwell remain a club in suffering: "The consideration that the family and club has been given is a memory that will stick with me for the rest of my life."

If McGhee sought a rousing occasion, he was duly handed one. A near-capacity crowd, including a sizeable contingent from Edinburgh, descended on Lanarkshire and ensured kick-off had to be delayed by 10 minutes. Neutrals, perhaps, had been attracted by the fact that the first meeting of these teams, a 2-2 draw at Tynecastle 10 days earlier, represented one of the finest matches of the Scottish season.

This encounter opened with similar vigour, Chris Porter and Deividas Cesnauskis coming close to opening the scoring within 10 minutes, before Ross McCormack did just that from the penalty spot midway through the first half. A sublime Motherwell passing move, also involving Stephen Hughes and Keith Lasley, culminated in Eggert Jonsson using an arm to block McCormack's chip into the Hearts penalty area.

That the visiting players showed not even a hint of dissent said it all about the validity of the award and McCormack coolly slotted home, high to the goalkeeper Steve Banks' right. Hearts, despite ambitiously fielding two orthodox wingers, mounted precious little in response with the home side evidently buoyed by their advantage. Michael Stewart was the only maroon-clad player to test Graeme Smith in the Motherwell goal with a tame overhead kick five minutes before the interval. Despite staging a mini-revival in recent weeks, culminating in Saturday's derby victory over Hibernian, Hearts looked, as has been the case on too many occasions this season, a disjointed lot.

Doubtless with some harsh words ringing in their ears from Stephen Frail, the caretaker manager, Hearts opened the second half in far more purposeful fashion. The same could not be said for Stuart Dougal, the referee, who had to leave the field injured on the hour-mark and was replaced by the fourth official Craig Thomson.

Andrius Velicka passed up a glorious opportunity to restore parity seconds later, the Hearts striker firing against the inside of Smith's right-hand post after Mark Reynolds misjudged a Saulius Mikoliunas cross. Velicka, with 12 goals to his credit this season and reportedly a transfer target for Bolton Wanderers, is not renowned for such wastefulness.

As the state of the pitch had deteriorated, so too did the quality of the football. Hearts, despite by now dominating possession, were clumsy in attack with Motherwell's counter-attacks breaking down due to their own poor passing. Christian Nade, the Hearts substitute, failed to find any of his three team-mates inside the Motherwell penalty area, 11 minutes from time, before the same player stumbled over the ball when sent clean through on Smith.

Motherwell's support, who had unfurled a banner in honour of O'Donnell, which stated he had been "Brave as a lion" were now required to salute the courage of their team as Hearts finished the game in the growing ascendancy. And such belligerence paid off, a series of blocks, breaks and at times desperate measures in the closing stages, which included five minutes of stoppage time, enough to secure Motherwell's passage.

Hearts can look to next week's CIS Cup semi-final as the last significant point of their season. It was more fractious a game than O'Donnell would have featured prominently in, but he will be smiling from above at his old team's continued success.

Taken from the Guardian/Observer

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