Motherwell 1 - 0 Hearts: Black sees red as Murphy wins it for Well
• Ian Black is given his marching orders. Picture: SNS
BOTH teams finished with ten men but Motherwell's vital statistic was Jamie Murphy's goal which propels them to the top of the SPL table. The Lanarkshire side were lifted following Ian Black's 50th-minute dismissal for reckless tackling and scored within ten minutes, which proved sufficient to propel them one point ahead of Celtic in the league.
Keith Lasley earned a second yellow card in the closing stages and, although Hearts were defiant and industrious, they could not find an equaliser playing most of the second half a man down. Black went over the top when tackling Lasley on 50 minutes and could have few complaints about his instant dismissal.
That was the key moment in a largely unremarkable match played in sodden conditions at Fir Park. Hearts had looked relatively comfortable but the red card left them vulnerable whenever Motherwell attacked. Once the hosts moved in front, they never looked like conceding.
The game began tentatively with an early moment of uncertainty from Steven Saunders presenting Andy Driver with the chance for an impromptu shot, which Darren Randolph beat away for a corner. That was the only notable event during the opening 20 minutes. Then Motherwell forced an attack when Tom Hateley dispossessed Driver. He supplied Chris Humphrey for a cross which saw Steven Jennings rasp the palms of Marian Kello from 18 yards.
The drizzling rain at affected both ball control and balance for those on the field, making for several late challenges. Motherwell coped better with the conditions and, on 34 minutes, Humphrey delivered another inviting ball from the right which Murphy wastefully headed over the crossbar. Then came the inevitable caution for a late tackle, Lasley careering into Adrian Mrowiec's thigh and temporarily forcing the Pole off the field.
Saunders' miscue handed Driver a priceless chance four minutes from the interval. The defender sliced an attempted clearance following Kello's kickout and the winger scampered in behind Motherwell's back line. As Randolph emerged, he clipped the ball over the goalkeeper who somehow repelled the effort with a strong fist in mid-air. Randolph was down low to his left seconds later to hold Hamill's shot as Hearts finished the opening period in command.
The visitors found themselves disadvantaged five minutes after the restart when Black received a straight red card. Pursuing a loose ball in the midfield area, he slid in on the slippy surface went over the top of Lasley. The dismissal was merited but, curiously, Lasley's late challenge on Mrowiec in the first half had only warranted yellow. Presumably, referee Stevie O'Reilly decreed Black's tackle worse because it was higher.
With the rain now upgraded from drizzly to torrential, Motherwell set about trying to use their numerical advantage. They took just ten minutes to do so. Saunders' through ball found Nicky Law, played onside by Eggert Jonsson, and he slid a square pass to Murphy entering the penalty area on the run. The striker initially hesitated under pressure from Ryan McGowan before rolling a calm finish into the corner of the net from around 12 yards.
Motherwell's ball retention skills kicked in thereafter as they moved the ball around the field quickly. Kello saved again from Murphy and Jamie Hamill tripped Humphrey in the act of shooting as the hosts attacked at pace. At the opposite end, Hearts substitute John Sutton cut a lonely figure in the role of lone striker.
Four minutes from interval the numbers were even again when Lasley earned himself a second booking for tripping another Hearts sub, Arvydas Novikovas. The midfielder trudged off to applause from Motherwell supporters, who recognised their team had done enough to move top of the SPL.
Motherwell (4-4-2): Randolph; Hateley, Saunders, Craigan, Hammell; Humphrey, Lasley, Jennings, Law; Higdon, Murphy (Carswell 90). Subs: Hollis, McHugh, Forbes, Page, Halsman, Lawless.
Hearts (4-3-3): Kello; McGowan, Jonsson, Zaliukas, Grainger; Hamill (Novikovas 84), Mrowiec, Black; Templeton (Skacel 77), Stevenson, Driver (Sutton 57). Subs: Balogh, Barr, G Smith, Robinson.
Referee: Stevie O'Reilly.