This was tremendous fayre at Fir Park – a really captivating cup tie. Dundee United, backed by a noisy throng down from Tayside, finally overcame a Motherwell team that, for 45 minutes at least, had threatened to cast aside their recent on-field woes. You just couldn’t take your eyes off it.
But, while United sail serenely on, riding high in the Premiership and now into the Scottish Cup fifth-round, Motherwell are in a bit of a state. Even Kenny Black, the club’s caretaker manager, shrugged his shoulders later and pronounced that no-one knew what was going on at the club, in terms of its next manager or its next owners.
It is now 30 days since Stuart McCall quit the club, a gifted manager who simply could not rouse his team to the standards it had shown over the previous three seasons. The Motherwell board are certainly taking their time about appointing McCall’s replacement and, with money scarce, may just stick with Black for the medium term.
This uncertainty also seems to be invading the minds of the Lanarkshire faithful, to judge from the poor turnout of the home support on Saturday. While United’s 2,000-strong followers belted out their hymns and launched their streamers, less than 3,000 home fans bothered to turn up for an attractive fixture. All is not well at ‘Well.
The one bright moment for Motherwell was Henrik Ojamaa’s blistering shot which gave them an early lead. It proved to be a false dawn. United gathered in momentum, missed gilt-edged chances galore, and finally claimed the tie through John Souttar’s second half equaliser and Keith Watson’s 83rd-minute winner.
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It was a memorable moment for Souttar, still just 18 and having missed most of the season so far through injury, to stoop and head his side’s equaliser right in front of United’s large bank of supporters. The youngster was one of Scottish football’s rising stars this time last year but had almost been forgotten about since suffering a terrible ankle injury in pre-season.
“It has been a horrible season for me so far, and watching games from the stand week in and week out was draining,” said Souttar. “So this is definitely a good moment for me and for the team. It’s just good to be back involved, and to score.
“Looking back, maybe my injury might prove a good thing. Jeff Clarke, the United physio, always told me I would benefit from things in the long run. I looked over at Jeff when I scored because he played a massive part in keeping me motivated, he always told me that I would come back stronger. But at the time, you don’t look at it like that.”
While two of his best friends, Ryan Gauld and Andrew Robertson, have moved on to bigger things, Souttar knocked back an offer from Sunderland last year and says he is content to still be learning and developing at Tannadice.
“That is not something I really think about,” he said. “I’m delighted for my two best pals getting their moves, and I think it is brilliant, but I’m not jealous or anything like that. They are both great players and they will go on to have great careers.
“When I got the Sunderland offer, they were in a difficult situation. But the gaffer here always assured me that he wanted me to stay, and that was the main thing, to stay and develop under him. He trusted me, and I trust him. It was the right decision to stay.”
Souttar, who only started the match due to Callum Morris’s suspension, also stated that he aimed to keep his place in Jackie McNamara’s side.
“I want to maintain a high standard and play every week – I don’t want to drop out,” he added. “I don’t believe in this thing about being young, and ‘young means you take time’ and all that. I want to be in the first time like everyone else, so hopefully I’ll be involved next week. We all want to better ourselves.”
Motherwell’s hopes of salvaging a late equaliser disappeared with John Sutton’s header wafting over the bar, aided by a timely lean from Watson to put the striker off balance. Watson himself was only on the field due to a warm-up sickness bout suffered by Jarowslaw Fojut.
A manager can plan and plan – and then out of disarray comes triumph. So it was at Fir Park.
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