This unfussy victory at Tynecastle, courtesy of a coolly-taken Michael Higdon goal, means that it will take a hugely unlikely series of results to prevent Lanarkshire hosting a tie in Europe's premier club competition this July.
It moved the Fir Park side eight points clear in the race for third place, and means that Dundee United must win at Rangers tonight, beat champions Celtic on Sunday, then prevail at Fir Park on the last day if they are to have any chance of stealing Stuart McCall's thunder. The Motherwell manager accepted last night that there would be irony in bucketloads if one of the greatest moments in Motherwell's modern history was achieved without his team kicking a ball at his old stomping ground of Ibrox.
"I'm not going to say I am going to put on my old Rangers scarf," joked McCall, who will be present as part of the commentary team. "Dundee United have to win all three games and if they did that they would deserve third place. If it is the Champions League, and I keep saying if, it will be by default, because of the nightmare Rangers have gone through but for us to finish third will have been an outstanding achievement."
For Hearts, their equation for Europa League qualifying is a complex conundrum with varying permutations, but the easiest way to put it is that to be sure of playing in Europe next season they must beat rivals Hibernian later this month to win the William Hill Scottish Cup. "We did not have efficacity," Paulo Sergio said. "Motherwell defended well but we had clear chances."
Say what you like about the Clydesdale Bank Premier League split, but at least the current format forces teams to prove themselves against their nearest challengers. Motherwell, for instance, were indebted to Hearts at the weekend when the Tynecastle side held their United to a draw. While McCall named an unchanged team, Sergio made three changes from the XI which drew 2-2 at Tannadice, with Stephen Elliott, David Templeton and Mehdi Taouil coming in for Craig Beattie, Rudi Skacel and Andy Driver.
The previous meetings had gone with the territory, Hearts winning 2-0 here on Christmas Eve, while Motherwell won both meetings at Fir Park, and it seemed like that pattern was set to continue when the hosts hoarded possession in the early stages. Taouil tugged a shot past the post following decent work from Elliott and Templeton, but Motherwell's front two of Higdon and Jamie Murphy were posing problems on the counter.
Perhaps thoughts of his next impending destination were going through Ian Black's head when he allowed Higdon to rob him and fire in a shot early on, but Murphy appears rejuvenated following a recent spell on the bench and had already had one shot cleared off the line by Black by the time he fired in a daisycutter which skipped off the rutted goalmouth, surprised Jamie MacDonald, and dropped at the feet of Higdon, who steered in his 16th of the season before milking the moment.
"That win takes us nearly to the biggest achievement of my career if we get to the Champions League," Higdon said afterwards. "It was a big performance and over the course of the season I think we have deserved it."
The home side brought on talisman Rudi Skacel at half time and within 10 minutes they had created their clearest chance of the match. Black made ground down the left before feeding in Templeton, who was in the act of shooting when Shaun Hutchinson did just enough to cause him to scuff the ball straight down the throat of Randolph.
Hearts were getting closer now and almost equalised when Danny Grainger's free-kick was met by the head of Darren Barr, only for his effort to fly wide. But this Motherwell side are nothing if not resolute, a team without huge stars who have become more than the sum of their parts. Lasley almost gave his side breathing space, with a shot which deflected off an outstretched Hearts leg and spun inches wide of a post, before it was the visitors' turn to live dangerously again. The ball broke off Templeton for Suso Santana to lash the ball into the far corner, only for his effort to be ruled out by the linesman's flag.
A few nerves were getting frayed as Motherwell sensed the enormity of what they were about to achieve but after a heroic clearing header from Lasley, the whistle brought an end to their torment. The visiting players celebrated in front of their supporters. It will take some outrageous arithmetic to deny them their rewards