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The National (Scotland)

Graham Alexander ecstatic as Motherwell secure European football with win over Hearts

Graham Alexander ecstatic as Motherwell secure European football with win over Hearts

MOTHERWELL will be in the Europa Conference League next season after they achieved a fine win over Scottish Cup Finalists Hearts and manager Graham Alexander was delighted at the achievement.

It's a remarkable achievement for the Lanarkshire side considering they failed to win a league game between Boxing Day and the start of April.

An early goal from Joe Efford sent Motherwell on their way in front of a bouncing Fir Park, but Hearts soon equalised through Josh Ginnelly and were much the better side for the remainder of the first half as they came close to taking the lead.

However, the hosts were far better after the break and Rickie Lamie fired them ahead again. They now cannot be denied a European place with the top five qualifying and Europa Conference League football will be at Fir Park next season.

Alexander said: "No one saw that a month ago did they! It's a brilliant feeling and I am so pleased with everyone connected with our club.

"We've had to put the tin hats on since January because results haven't been great but we kept believing, working and plugging away and when that happens you get your rewards. We spent 24 weeks in the top six so no one can begrudge us. The lads have shown great courage to win the last two games.

"I know it's a big thing for us because it's certainly not expected, with the sizes of the clubs in this division who can outmuscle us a lot of the time.

"Financially for us, it keeps us safe. It doesn't open up a treasure chest of cash to get Erling Haaland, but it gives us a sound financial base.

"For me, I have won to win a coupe of promotions but I think this is as good as them, without a doubt."

Hearts rested veteran club captain and Scotland goalkeeper Craig Gordon to hand Ross Stewart just his second start of the season and he got off to a shocker.

A third minute Well break down the right saw Connor Shields drive an angled effort in at goal. Stewart should have done so much better than just meekly push it directly into the path of Efford who had the delightful sight for him of an open goal to prod the ball into.

It took Hearts just six minutes to level matters though. Ginnelly picked the ball up on the left 30 yards from goal from a poor defensive header from Juhani Ojala and seemed to be able to negotiate a path through on goal without any kind of meaningful challenge before coolly slipping the ball past Liam Kelly in goal.

Motherwell regained the lead in the 56th minute when a Callum Slattery corner should have been headed behind by Hearts midfielder Peter Haring at the back post, but he tried to be too clever by heading the ball back into traffic and only succeeded in teeing up Lamie to accept his generosity and thump the ball home.

Hearts manager Robbie Neilson said: "We probably had enough chances to win it in the first half, but I’m not really bothered, to be honest. Obviously we wanted to come here and win, but it was far more important that we got Cammy Devlin back, we got Michael Smith back, we got game time for the likes of Ben Woodburn and Ross Stewart."