JOHN Sutton returned to haunt Hearts then pleaded with the football authorities to show his former team the mercy which he couldn't.

The Motherwell striker, the only senior player who exercised his right to leave when the Tynecastle side entered administration last summer, notched the fine goal which saw Motherwell equal a 77-year record with their sixth straight top-flight win, while extending Hearts' winless run to 10 matches.

They now sit 20 points adrift at the foot of the Premiership table, and Sutton asked the SPFL board to show leniency towards them tomorrow when they consider their latest attempt to circumvent their current signing embargo.

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Sutton said: "As far as I can make out it was decisions made by people in another country completely affecting what is going on here. It was a bit draconian. You want the team to be competitive and I think now is the time to lift (the embargo). I wouldn't write them off yet in terms of going down, but once they get out of administration they won't have any problems attracting players."

Tynecastle reverberated in applause at full-time yesterday, after another huge effort from these young players, but things aren't getting any easier any time soon. The first indications were that key man Jamie Walker has broken a metatarsal, and full-back Kevin McHattie pulled a hamstring, guaranteeing both youngsters weeks on the sidelines. Adam King, an unused substitute yesterday, is interesting Swansea, but Hearts can ill-afford to let him leave.

"Results haven't gone for us, but the one thing you can't do is question these boys' commitment," said Locke. "What we are lacking is just that wee bit of experience. You saw that with Sutton having the composure to score from what I thought was an impossible angle. I tried to keep him in the summer, and he ends up scoring the winner: that sums up the last couple of months."

With one potential target should the ban be lifted, Rudi Skacel, watching on, Locke in the meantime must make do with what he has. He gave Dale Carrick his first start up front, with Jamie Hamill solidifying midfield. Motherwell, whose momentum was threatened by a two-week lay-off, rewarded striker Henri Anier for his signing of a permanent deal by leaving him on the bench, while Gunnar Nielsen returned in goal.

A chill day in Gorgie, swept by icy blasts of wind, promised football in the raw and we were only three seconds in before the day had its first casualty, Hamill caught by Sutton. The youth of Hearts still betrayed them at times: Carrick was hesitant with one early run, then 17-year-old Jordan McGhee almost compounded his Edinburgh derby misery by putting James McFadden's cross past his own goal, only to be bailed out by a fine Jamie MacDonald save.

The more composed patches of play belonged to the away side, with Lionel Ainsworth to the fore. Some clever work from Keith Lasley and James McFadden played him in, only to be thwarted by the backtracking Scott Robinson, before the Scotland man tugged a resultant volley wide.

Ainsworth, tormenting Kevin McHattie down Motherwell's right flank, then forced another great save from MacDonald. Suddenly, the goal arrived. Hearts lost the ball down the right, Iain Vigurs was soon splitting open a disjointed backline, and Sutton was finishing magnificently with his left foot from an angle.

Ainsworth overran the ball following another inventive Vigurs pass, while Sutton and sub Anier would also go close before the end, but the main direction of traffic was towards the opposite goal. Nielsen misjudged a Stevenson cross which brushed his crossbar, was unconvincing when dealing with long-range shots from David Smith and Stevenson, then just about managed to recover when he found himself rounded by Smith.

The best chance of all, though, belonged to Hamill, but when Stevenson's cross found him in space, his half-hit shot was cleared. "I thought Hearts' second half performance showed there is a lot of spirit still here," said a relieved Stuart McCall. "I am not going to say we could have made it easier for ourselves, because MacDonald made two terrific saves. I knew it would be difficult, and it was, but it is another three points."