Hearts’ win over Motherwell is perfect tonic for boss Craig Levein

Hearts striker Steven Naismith celebrates scoring (SNS Group)
Hearts striker Steven Naismith celebrates scoring (SNS Group)

A SOLITARY goal from the man of the moment – white-hot Scotland striker Steven Naismith – was enough to increase Hearts’ lead at the top of the Premiership table to five points after this feisty Fir Park contest.

Hearts manager Craig Levein, who was taken to hospital with a heart problem three weeks ago, returned to match duties but travelled to Fir Park separately from his team and took his place in the director’s box rather than the dugout.

“I used to sit in the stand a lot with Dundee United,” he said.

“I always found it better for my half-time team talk because you don’t get involved in the emotions of what happens on the touchline,” he said.

“But I am itching to get back down there.

“I felt good today, maybe because we won! I hope I feel good every week for a while.”

The home side started brightly and came close to breaking the deadlock in the eighth minute when Danny Johnson nodded a punt upfield into the path of strike partner Curtis Main and his full-blooded volley from 18 yards was brilliantly turned behind by Zdenek Zlamal.

Four minutes later the Czech ’keeper was called into action again when he turned behind a blistering angled drive from Richard Tait and then Peter Hartley saw a piledriver deflected inches over by Jimmy Dunne.

Defender Hartley tried his luck again from 25 yards and struck his shot so well that Zlamal would have been helpless if the ball hadn’t been inadvertently deflected over the bar by the head of Jimmy Dunne. However, a catastrophic error from Carl McHugh gifted the Jambos the lead.

The makeshift centre-back was short with a pass-back and goalkeeper Trevor Carson lost out in a 50-50 with man-mountain Uche Ikpeazu.

The loose ball fell kindly for Naismith – clearly still in the mood after his Scotland double – and he calmly slotted home his eighth goal of the campaign.

Unfortunately for Well, Northern Ireland star Carson was crocked in the collision and left the field on a stretcher, with his boss Steven Robinson claiming his side should have been awarded a foul for Ikpeazu’s challenge.

“We all thought it was a 50-50 initially, including Bobby,” he said.

“I’ve got the benefit of watching it back four or five times and Trevor clearly gets the ball.

“I have to say, there was no intent whatsoever from big Uche but his momentum takes him right through and we’ve potentially got a goalkeeper with a broken ankle or a broken leg.

“Trevor clearly wins the ball before Uche makes contact with him and then it ricochets.

“First and foremost, we shouldn’t be passing the ball back. It was an individual error which we can prevent, so it’s not a blame game.

“If I was Bobby Madden, I probably would have given the exact same decision because of the pace of the game.”

Substitute stopper Mark Gillespie made his Premiership debut and his first act should have been to pick the ball out of the net.

But, after being picked out by Olly Lee’s free-kick, Peter Haring headed over from just six yards out.

A cross from Gael Bigirimana provided McHugh with a chance to equalise but he couldn’t get enough on his header and Zlamal gathered comfortably.

Dunne then made a much better connection from Lee’s corner and Gillespie threw himself to his left to push the ball away.

Gillespie excelled himself again when he blocked Demetri Mitchell’s shot after the full-back had been sent clear by Ikpeazu.

But Hearts couldn’t put the game to bed and the home side just couldn’t find a way through the packed defence of the Gorgie side.

After the game, Levein revealed that Sheffield Wednesday’s 21-year-old attacking midfielder Sean Clare is set to become Hearts’ 18th summer signing.

“He is nearly signed but it has been quite complicated,” he revealed.

“He’s still a Sheffield Wednesday player, essentially, because he’s still subject to training compensation and we are trying to get that all sorted out.

“I believe the paperwork is nearly done, and he should be with us on Monday.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am.”