Hearts see off Motherwell to go top of Scottish Prem

Hearts moved to the top of the Scottish Premiership with a 2-0 win after a Liam Boyce penalty and Stephen Kingsley free-kick ended Motherwell’s five-match unbeaten run.

The Tynecastle side struck twice in the first half, with Boyce having a second spot-kick saved after the break, and were well worth their 2-0 victory, despite having to withstand some late pressure from the visitors.

Victory kept the hosts unbeaten in the league and lifted them above Rangers and Hibernian, who meet at Ibrox on Sunday.

John Souttar was not deemed fit enough to return from injury, so Hearts kicked off with the same side that started the 3-0 win over Livingston last weekend.

Motherwell made one change to the team that defeated Ross County in their previous outing, with Bevis Mugabi replacing Ricki Lamie in defence.

Hearts got off to the perfect start when they took the lead after just five minutes.

Boyce chased down a through-ball from Beni Baningime and got there just before goalkeeper Liam Kelly, who was deemed to have tripped the Northern Irish forward by referee David Munro.

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - OCTOBER 02: Hearts' Liam Boyce makes it 1-0 from the penalty spot during the cinch Premiership match between Heart of Midlothian and Motherwell at Tynecastle on October 02, 2021, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

Liam Boyce scored from the spot

Motherwell protested the penalty award, but Boyce kept his composure to score his spot-kick.

Buoyed by their early advantage, the hosts started to take command of the game and they struck again in the 22nd minute when Kingsley fired in a brilliant free-kick from just outside the area after Baningime had been fouled.

Motherwell tried to find a response and Kaiyne Woolery saw a low shot from the edge of the box deflected wide in the 31st minute. The resulting corner, taken by Mark O’Hara, was headed over by Juhani Ojala.

Hearts went close to a third in the 37th minute when Ben Woodburn had a powerful strike from outside the area pushed over by Kelly.

Well almost pulled one back in first-half stoppage time when Tony Watt saw a dipping half-volley from 25 yards tipped over by Craig Gordon. The goalkeeper then had to act smartly to stop Watt heading in from the subsequent corner.

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - OCTOBER 02:  Hearts' Stephen Kingsley celebrates making it 2-0 with teammates during the cinch Premiership match between Heart of Midlothian and Motherwell at Tynecastle on October 02, 2021, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Sammy Turner / SNS Group)

Hearts’ Stephen Kingsley celebrates after making it 2-0

Cammy Devlin threatened for the home side early in the second half with a low angled shot from inside the box that ran agonisingly wide of the far post.

Hearts suffered a blow in the 54th minute when defender Craig Halkett limped off and was replaced with Andy Halliday.

A minute later, Robbie Neilson’s team had a chance to kill the game when Callum Slattery was deemed to have hauled Devlin down in the box, but Kelly made an excellent block from Boyce’s penalty.

Almost immediately Motherwell had an opportunity to reduce their arrears when Woolery got in behind the home defence, but Gordon got down to make an excellent save.

Baningime then had a shot from the edge of the box tipped behind by Kelly before Halliday shot wide.

Motherwell enjoyed a period of pressure in the closing stages but were unable to find a way through a well-organised home defence.

What the managers said

Hearts manager Robbie Neilson: “We’ve had a lot of challenges this season. The first one was, ‘Could we improve the away record?’ I think in the last 15-20 years, Hearts have won more than 50 per cent of their away games once, so that’s the first thing for us to try and rectify. And the second one we spoke about at the start of the season is, ‘Can we go to Glasgow and win?’

“That’s the next challenge for us. It’s going to be tough but we go, no matter what happens (between Rangers and Hibs on Sunday), to Ibrox close to them. We’ve got a lot of young guys in the team that are improving all the time, so it’s another test for them to go there. It will be tough, but we have a belief we can go there and perform.

“That is the ultimate aim for every team because that tells you where you are. Can you go to Glasgow and win? It is a different beast when you go through to Glasgow, so we need to be ready for that.

“We have players who can handle the ball and players that can work defensively so we will go there and we will give it a shot.”

Motherwell manager Graham Alexander: “I’m disappointed because I felt we deserved more from the game. I thought we created some great chances, especially in the second half.

“The general performance was a massive improvement on last week when we won, but the big moments didn’t go for us today.”

Reflecting on the early penalty Hearts scored from, Alexander said: “I think there might be a touch, but there is only one thing the lad (Boyce) is looking for. He’s an experienced player and we have to learn from that.”