London Hearts Supporters Club

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<-Page <-Team Tue 22 Jan 2008 Motherwell 1 Hearts 0 Team-> Page->
<-Srce <-Type Scotsman ------ Report Type-> Srce->
Stephen Frail <-auth Barry Anderson auth-> Stuart Dougal
[R McCormack pen 22]
9 of 011 ----- SC A

Undone by Hurly Burley at Fir Park

Motherwell 1 - 0 Hearts

MOTHERWELL might have gained an unfair advantage before a ball was kicked last night.
News sweeping across the country yesterday that George Burley is Scotland's manager in waiting had added significance for those of a Fir Park persuasion, for it also meant Mark McGhee was going nowhere. The consequent exhilaration around Lanarkshire carried over into the evening's Scottish Cup replay and went some way towards eliminating Hearts from the tournament.

Burley, ironically still regarded as something of a messiah at Tynecastle, is the SFA's preferred choice to succeed Alex McLeish assuming compensation can be agreed with Southampton. McGhee, having been interviewed for the position, was philosophical in defeat, for he also had a momentous victory on his hands after overcoming Hearts.

Just like in the first match of this fourth-round tie, when Motherwell recovered from 2-0 down to secure a replay, McGhee saw a defiant side to his team last night. They successfully protected their 1-0 advantage during the visitors' second-half onslaught, the solitary goal provided by Ross McCormack's 21st-minute penalty. Buoyed by the news their manager was staying, the hosts were giving Hearts a chasing at one point in the first half. However, the interval signalled a swing in momentum, and those returning east along the M8 last night must have been aggrieved that their side acquired nothing for all the endeavour.

Stephen Frail declared his need for a striking partner to unburden Andrius Velicka in yesterday's Evening News and, if anything, last night exemplified Hearts' need for more attacking craft. The Fir Park pitch was never conducive to fluent football but long balls launched from back to front were virtually pleading to be taken down by the delicate touch of a Larry Kingston or a Deividas Cesnauskis.

The Lithuanian did feature but was ineffective throughout the opening period and found himself replaced by Christian Nade at half-time.

The change to accommodate two strikers accorded Hearts control but, when Velicka's 62nd-minute shot rebounded off the post and Ruben Palazuelos' follow up skied towards the Davie Cooper Stand, it was obvious it wasn't their night.

"We didn't do what we wanted to do in the first half. We didn't hold the ball up, although it's difficult with only one up front. I know that," said Frail, who deployed Velicka as his lone forward ahead of a five-man midfield. "We were pretty deep, our midfield sitting pretty much on top of the back four. I wanted them pushed on because that allowed lads like Hughes and Lasley time on the ball in midfield. In the second half I wanted us tighter to that, win second balls and be on the front foot. It was a reverse in the second half, pretty much like our game on Saturday against Hibs. We had two chances, Velicka's and Nade's, and I'm really disappointed to go out the cup. The first half was the most disappointing.

"It's a massive blow. I'm getting asked, because of the league position, if the cups have added significance. They're significant because you want to win them. You want to win everything you're in and do well in every competition. We're just disappointed we're out of it now but we have a massive game on Saturday against Aberdeen. We need to try and keep up this reasonable form of two league draws and a win."

Bristol City manager Gary Johnson was an interested spectator in the Fir Park directors' box for a game that was delayed for ten minutes to let supporters filter through the turnstiles. He assessed both Velicka and McCormack, and there was little doubt the latter looked the more impressive.

Hearts donned an all-maroon outfit perhaps for superstitious reasons, their 2006 Scottish Cup victory having been characterised by the use of maroon shorts throughout the campaign. They forced Marc Fitzpatrick into an early goal-line clearance but, despite opening brighter than their hosts, were required to mind their own rigging whenever McCormack ventured forward. He emphasised his creativity on 21 minutes with a cross which brought Motherwell's penalty.

The ball was ushered from Stephen Hughes through Keith Lasley to McCormack and his clipped ball into the penalty area was inadvertently handled by Eggert Jonsson sliding in to block the delivery.

"It hit me on the hand, I don't know how the ref saw it but it definitely hit me," conceded the Icelander. "I saw the boy taking a shot and just threw my body in front of it and the ball hit me on the hand. It wasn't intentional."

McCormack stroked the spot-kick confidently to Steve Banks' right to begin a period of Motherwell domination.

Hearts toiled to gain a foothold in midfield as McGhee's side interchanged passes and moved off the ball with precision timing. An ambitious overhead effort from Michael Stewart was the extent of the visitors' attempts at an equaliser before the interval. Frail, doubtless like the 3500-strong travelling support, recognised the need for greater support for Velicka, and therefore Nade replaced Cesnauskis for the second half.

Gradually the change took effect and Hearts pressed their opponents back. After referee Stuart Dougal suffered a calf injury and conducted his own substitution for Craig Thomson, Velicka and Palazuelos combined to spurn two glaring chances on 62 minutes. Paul Quinn kicked fresh air when attempting to clear Jonsson's right-sided cross and the ball landed with Velicka at the back post. His placed shot rebounded off the post and Palazuelos, under pressure, could only scoop the rebound into the stand in front of a gaping Motherwell goal.

In the current climate, the one man Hearts would choose to present with a priceless chance inside the penalty area is 12-goal Velicka. "I said that too. He got the chance, he beat the keeper but it hits the post," said Frail. "It's hard to bear from that point of view. Maybe he should've scored because he had time to pick his spot."

Chris Porter's enforced half-time withdrawal due to injury had forced McCormack into a more central striking role to accommodate the replacement, Darren Smith, in midfield. This stifled the threat of the former Rangers player and Hearts sensed they were in the ascendancy. But converting possession into goals proved difficult. Nade manoeuvred past three defenders on Motherwell's goal line but shot straight into goalkeeper Graeme Smith's arms. Seconds later, the same player charged into the penalty area but overran the ball and was again foiled by Smith.

The closing stages saw Hearts force the pace but the equaliser proved elusive due to a frustrating lack of creativity. Frail left Fir Park adamant that the cup exit brought no additional pressure on his shoulders.

"I've been given the job until told otherwise and I'll do it to the best of my ability," he said. "We've seen little signs over the last few weeks and that's all down to the players. Yes we're disappointed to be out the cup, but we can't dwell on it or linger on it. We need to be ready for training again and look forward to the Aberdeen game. I don't think there's any mo
re pressure next week (against Rangers in the CIS Cup semi-final].

"Had we beaten Motherwell, we'd have gone into Saturday's game with more confidence. The CIS Cup game is a one-off but it's not so much added pressure. We want to win it, we want to go to Hampden and do well in that competition. I still believe we have the players who can get us into the final."

McGhee, who now welcomes Dundee to Fir Park in the next round, said: "This builds momentum for us. If we'd gone out it wouldn't have been the end of the world but it would've been a shame. Stephen Hughes has been playing well for us all season but it was only Keith Lasley's second game back and it was Marc Fitzpatrick's first match in some time. They deserve special credit."

One suspects the entire Motherwell team received their own special credit with the pre-match news that McGhee would not be decamping from Fir Park.

Taken from the Scotsman

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