AT A time when most were sitting down at the dinner table, Motherwell moved up the league table.
In Scottish football’s second edition of Saturday Night Live, Stuart
McCall’s side recovered from the loss of an early own-goal to establish themselves in third place.
Stephen McManus, their central defender, had put the ball into his own net, but Henri Anier quickly equalised, John Sutton, pictured below, put Motherwell in front and, despite the late dismissal of Simon Ramsden, they held on for all three points. Had Lee Hollis, their goalkeeper, not twice denied the visitors in a frantic closing spell, they would have had to settle for a point. It left Kilmarnock, still winless this season, frustrated that defensive mistakes, for each of the two goals, had again cost them.
Allan Johnston, their manager, later said that the departure of Paul Heffernan, who did not see himself as a partner for Kris Boyd, would finance the acquisition of a new centre-half. “We cannot afford to defend the way we are and expect to win games,” he said. “It will be an uphill battle, week in, week out. If we can cut out those mistakes, we will not be far away.”
“We want Johnston out,” was the cry from Kilmarnock’s travelling support, but it was a reference to Michael, their chairman. As the fans’ campaign for a boardroom coup continues apace, they have at least agreed to be patient with the new management team, despite only sporadic signs of promise on the pitch. One of those came early in this tea-time encounter when Barry Nicholson’s inswinging free kick caught out the home defence. Darren Barr got a touch, but it was McManus whose head directed it into the far corner of the net.
Had Kilmarnock been able to consolidate their advantage, it might have been a different game, but within three minutes the home side were level. Keith Lasley won possession just outside the penalty area, and slipped the ball wide to an unmarked Anier, who poked it between the goalkeeper’s legs.
For most of the first half, it was a stagnant affair, contested mostly in the midfield, but as the interval approached Motherwell upped their game. Iain Vigurs outmuscled Barr in the box, but his angled shot was blocked by Craig Samson. The goalkeeper also denied Sutton when the striker hit a low shot across his body. Samson, though, was helpless when Motherwell exploited a purple patch just before the break. Ramsden’s low ball across the six-yard line should have been cleared by Jackson Irvine, but he fresh-aired it, allowing Sutton to convert at the back post.
If Michael Johnston was uncomfortable with the scoreline, as well as the banners that called for him to go, neither can he have enjoyed seeing Kenny Shiels, the man he sacked in the summer, on the pitch at half-time. As the former manager engaged in a spot of TV punditry, his name was belted out by the visiting fans.
Their frustration grew when Sutton almost scored another early in the second half. He climbed high above his marker to meet a cross by Ramsden, but his header came back off the goalkeeper.
Kilmarnock were not about to roll over. Gradually, they grew more confident and threatened to score an equaliser. When a deep cross by Sean Clohessy was returned across the box by Boyd, Shaun Hutchinson gave his team-mates a fright by flicking it narrowly over his own crossbar.
As the game stretched, Boyd found more room. He pulled a shot wide after Michael Gardyne, Kilmarnock’s new loan signing, fed him in the channel. Then he curled one wide of the far post after a free kick.
At the other end, Vigurs had a shot tipped over the bar, but for Motherwell, the last few moments were complicated by a second yellow card for Ramsden. Already booked for complaining that Irvine’s challenge on Sutton warranted a penalty, his foul on substitute Rabiu Ibrahim reduced the home side to ten men.