The Steelmen don’t like to make things easy for themselves.
What started as virtually one-way traffic ended with the home area under siege as Partick staged a frenetic late rally as they struggled in vain to preserve their unbeaten Premiership record and avoid only a second defeat in manager Alan Archibald’s tenure as Thistle boss.
This almost became a classic example of how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
“I was very pleased at half-time because we wanted to stop them playing because they’re a good footballing side,” said Motherwell manager Stuart McCall. “We should have killed them off, but the last 20 minutes was tough. We were under pressure and they certainly gave us a few scares.”
“It’s a sore one to take because we didn’t turn up in the first half,” admitted Archibald, “but in the second half we played with a greater tempo, which is how we like to play and what works best for us.”
Motherwell haven’t enjoyed the greatest start to this season, but for the first three-quarters of this match they dominated territory and chances as they outfought, outthought and out-muscled Partick in almost every aspect of the game. For a while it looked as if the hosts might completely overwhelm their visitors, especially after they broke the deadlock to take the lead 20 minutes into the first half.
The catalyst for that goal was a weaving, tricksy run down the right by the consistently impressive Henri Anier. The Estonian turned Partick skipper Conrad Balatoni inside out before feeding the ball from the byline into Zaine Francis-Angol, who had his back to goal but took a touch and turned sharply before firing in a low driven cross right across the front of the goal to the back post, where the waiting John Sutton sidefooted the ball in to give McCall’s men the whip hand.
They were good value for the lead in all areas of the pitch. At the back Simon Ramsden and Shaun Hutchinson subdued Kris Doolan and company, to the point where the only Partick shot on target in the first 78 minutes was Isaac Osbourne’s long-range effort, easily fielded by keeper Lee Hollis. In midfield Motherwell also ruled the roost, with skipper Keith Lasley – the only player left from the last time these two sides met in 2007 – providing the brains and Stuart Carswell slamming into tackles and pressing with determination.
If Motherwell’s greater intensity and desire was obvious in defence and midfield, it was in attack where the differences between the two sides were most obvious. Where Partick seemed devoid of ideas and penetration in the final third, ‘Well’s combination of a traditional target man in Sutton and the perpetual-motion machine that is Anier
threatened to rip Partick to shreds. In the few cameos where the mercurial James McFadden joined the party, the home side looked a real handful.
Partick found Anier, in particular, almost impossible to keep a lid on. He carved out four further chances and was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet, while his cute through-ball which put Lasley one-on-one with keeper Scott Fox was a moment of genius. The out-of-sorts McFadden was also denied twice, while Sutton had an effort cleared off the line by Aaron Muirhead.
Such wastefulness tempts fate, and as the second half wore on Partick came increasingly into the game, and when Carswell went off injured and Anier was substituted, the visitors suddenly upped the tempo, moved the ball slickly and almost forced themselves back onto level terms. With Stuart Bannigan directing operations superbly, the Maryhill men had Motherwell pinned back into their own half, with sub Ross Forbes getting a shot on target with his first touch with just over ten minutes remaining.
From there it was siege-like stuff, with Kallum Higginbotham, John Baird, Balatoni and Muirhead all coming close, but with Motherwell’s rearguard throwing itself in front of any goal-bound effort time and again. The final whistle was greeted with relief by Motherwell’s fans and players, and rightly so because a match that was under complete control was slipping away.