Hearts can reduce Celtic’s lead at the top of the Ladbroke’s Premier Division to just three points if they can pull off a win at second-bottom Motherwell.
Admittedly the Celts will be keen to maintain their advantage when they travel to Inverness Caley Thistle on the Sunday, but if the Capital side can take the points then it at least puts some pressure on the defending Champions and won’t allow them the luxury of taking their foot off the gas.
That’s what boss Robbie Neilson will be demanding from his side as they take on a Motherwell side whose gaffer Mark McGhee admitted they were sucked into a relegation battle after a woeful display in a 3-0 defeat at Ross County.
While he’ll be looking for a reaction from his players when they host the second-placed side at Fir Park, they can expect little mercy from a Hearts side that have won four of their last six games. The Steelmen, by comparison, have lost four of the last six and the mood around the dressing room must be getting grim.
Hearts were held to a 1-1 draw at home by Dundee last weekend which halted a run of four wins in a row but expectations are high that they can take the three points at struggling ‘Well.
The bookmakers certainly expect Hearts to romp to the win and they’re 6/5 on to close the gap at the top. It’s certainly a game in which Neilson will want his side to turn on the style and to impose and express themselves on a struggling side.
But Motherwell could turn the game into a real battle and it is a test of how much the Hearts players want it in a physical encounter on what could be another heavy pitch with Scotland’s wet West geared up for more rain and flurries of snow.
That’s when you see your sides real character; when they’re shivering with their tops pulled down over their hands and steam rising off their heads in a chill wind on a pitch that’s turning muddy in places.
Hearts have the quality to win the game easily, but the match will also prove a test of their physical and mental character. It’s a chance to show boss Neilson just how much they want to win and he’ll be well aware of that fact.
The Jambos dominated possession against Dundee last week but lacked the killer instinct to finish off the visitors and conceded their first goal in 427 minutes of football as Rory Loy smashed in an equaliser.
They should, however, have too much grit for the Steelmen and are fully expected to secure the win against a side that have netted just 11 times while the Hearts defence have only leaked a meagre 15. It all comes down to the players’ attitude and Neilson will have been drilling that into them all week on the training ground.
Motherwell Stats W4 D2 L9
Recent Form LLDWLL
Hearts Stats W9 D3 L3
Recent Form WWLWWD
12/08/2015 Hearts 2 Motherwell 0
01/03/2014 Motherwell 4 Hearts 1
11/01/2014 Hearts 0 Motherwell 1
19/10/2013 Motherwell 2 Hearts 1
02/03/2013 Hearts 1 Motherwell 2
Motherwell (4-4-1-1) – Ripley, Law, Laing, J Taylor, Kennedy, Ainsworth, Grimshaw, Pearson, Johnson, McDonald, Moult.
Hearts (4-4-2) – Alexander, Paterson, Augustyn, Rossi Branco, Oshaniwa, Sutchuin, Buaben, Pallardo, Nicholson, Sow, King.
Motherwell: Hammell (inj), Lasley (inj).
Hearts: Ozturk (inj), Walker (inj), El Hassnaoui (inj).