The international break has arrived at an opportune time for Zander Clark and his Heart of Midlothian team-mates. The Edinburgh club were last week knocked out of the Europa Conference League after being beaten home and away by PAOK, while back-to-back defeats on cinch Premiership duty have left the men from the capital requiring a pause to draw breath.

A call-up to Steve Clarke’s national set-up represents a welcome distraction for Clark, who was between the sticks as Hearts suffered a 1-0 loss at home to high-flying Motherwell on Sunday. Callum Slattery’s first-half goal was all that separated the two sides but in truth, the final scoreline could have been far more flattering to Stuart Kettlewell’s side.

Hearts were ponderous on the ball and struggled to fashion opportunities against the Steelmen, and Frankie McAvoy’s team could have no complaints in the end. They were well beaten – and not for the first time this season – and Clark admits that something has to change when he and his team-mates regroup after the international break.

“It’s frustrating,” said the goalkeeper. “It was obviously a home game, one that we wanted to win, and coming away from it with a defeat is struggling.

READ MORE: Steven Naismith on the two 'harsh lessons' Hearts must learn to compete in Europe

“We need to start games more brightly. We’ve rotated the team and there is a freshness in the team and we can’t use European games [as an excuse].

“We need to start on the font foot and settle into games better and cause teams more of a threat. We got down the sides a lot but never really caused any problems.

“I don’t remember Kells [Motherwell goalkeeper Liam Kelly] having a save to make of any great note. That’s disappointing for all the good play we had in behind them, it’s just that final ball and being more organised throughout.”

Hearts have had to adjust to the hectic schedule of negotiating the Conference League qualifiers while still performing in the bread and butter of domestic football, and it’s fair to say that the men from Gorgie found that balancing act to be extremely difficult.

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Four consecutive defeats have upped the pressure on the management team at Tynecastle but Clark won’t allow playing in Europe to be used as an excuse. The 30-year-old accepts that the additional fixtures will have taken their toll on the team, but does not see their elimination at the hands of PAOK as some sort of silver lining.

“Players, fans - we wanted to keep the Thursday-Sunday routine going but it’s not meant to be,” Clark said. “We’ve got the international break now and it gives us a chance to reset and get our focus back and try and be in a better place come the restart, good to go.

“You have the traveling with Europe but we had enough freshness in the team and we need to strive off that. We can’t use it as excuses, it was not good enough.”

Sunday’s result may have heaped further misery on an already frustrated Hearts support but the visitors, by contrast, left Edinburgh with every reason to be cheerful. Motherwell go into the break level on points with Celtic at the top of the table and the Lanarkshire outfit have barely skipped a beat since Kettlewell replaced Stevie Hammell as manager in February. In that time, only Celtic have picked up more points than the ’Well.

READ MORE: Hearts 0 Motherwell 1: Same issues plague under-par hosts as Slattery seals win

Slattery’s well-worked goal was decisive on Sunday, and the win was all the more impressive due to the fact that Kettlewell’s side played the final 20 or so minutes down a man following Paul McGinn’s second booking. Slattery, naturally, takes confidence from the display but he insists no one at Fir Park will be taking their lofty position in the standings too seriously for the time being.

“That's all it is [a foundation],” explained the midfielder. “We won't really get too caught up in the table. The manager drums it into us to take each game as it comes and that's what we will do.

“We won't get carried away. We will work on the training pitch. The win was nice but we have to come back after the international break and carry on that form.

“It was nice. There's many ways you can win a game and going down to 10 men we had to sit deep and put our bodies on the line and I think we did that great, which speaks volumes about the team sticking together and the team spirit we have got at the moment and will continue to have.”