JAMES McFadden added to his collection of spectacular goals to rescue a deserved point for Motherwell and edge them closer to a European spot.
Scorers: Motherwell: Higdon (34) McFadden (84); St Mirren: Newton (41) Guy (75)
The game demonstrated another one of those curiosities that the SPL split invariably throws up each season. St Mirren have been a genuine impediment to Motherwell’s otherwise impressive march to qualification for yet another European campaign, winning one and drawing this and the other SPL meetings between the pair this season. Unfortunately for the Paisley side and undoubtedly to the relief of all down Fir Park way they won’t be coming together for a fourth time as Danny Lennon’s men’s failure to make the top six has been known for several weeks now.
While the Saints have been consistent in their nuisance value to Motherwell, they simply haven’t been able to maintain that consistency across the duration of a long campaign and therein lies the reason for the parting of these two clubs’ ways for this season at least.
“Motherwell are a great attacking side who score a lot of goals and win a lot of games,” enthused Lennon. “That’s something we want to emulate. We’re a lot closer to the top six than we were last season and it’s something we’ve got to keep working on”.
In truth, the Buddies owed their continuing good sequence of results against Stuart McCall’s side to a mixture of resilience, good fortune and opportunism. They were outplayed for long spells but looked like they were going to sneak it towards the end after Lewis Guy had given them a second-half lead. But with the clock ticking down James McFadden produced the sort of magical moment only he can by swinging in a beautiful curling free kick to restore parity and force Celtic to wait a bit longer for their title party.
“It was a great game to watch,” said McCall afterwards, satisfied with both his side’s fightback and them maintaining a decent bit of water between his side and the rest in the chase for Europe. “I thought we played really well, but were terrific in the second half in particular. It would have been a travesty if we hadn’t got something out of the game and we were probably worth all three points.”
Much of the game featured the trademark patient probing and incisive bursts that Motherwell have built their success under McCall. With Chris Humphrey always liable to step on the gas down the right flank and McFadden slowly rediscovering his creative instincts down the other, it was a pretty searching examination for the Saints defence.
As always, however, the main threat came from Michael Higdon who, as if the incentive of adding to his impressive haul of 21 SPL goals going into this game wasn’t enough, had the Paisley side’s supporters giving him the time-honoured stick that is reserved for any player turning out against a former club. The odds always seemed fairly reasonable that the Englishman would, metaphorically speaking, rub their noses in it. Sure enough after sending a first time effort skywards following some nimble footwork from McFadden, he was his usual deadly and imposing self when Keith Lasley sent a diagonal cross to the far post and he got his head to it in emphatic fashion to bury the ball beyond Craig Samson.
It was a well merited advantage for the Lanarkshire side but their seemingly methodical progress was halted as the interval approached. As St Mirren demonstrated in their League Cup final success recently, they are side well capable of coming off the ropes and landing a few meaty punches of their own and they did it again yesterday. At about 30 yards out on the right flank Conor Newton didn’t seem to have too many options available so he simply let loose a blistering effort that few past Darren Randolph to the bewilderment of the hosts.
With the break arriving just at the right time for Motherwell they did a pretty good job of regaining their focus and testing times quickly resumed for Samson and his colleagues. The St Mirren goalkeeper put in a couple of brilliant one-handed saves to deny Nicky Law and Humphrey respectively, while Lasley was shaking his head ruefully as he saw two net-bound efforts from the edge of box deflected to safety.
Saints advanced upfield only sporadically but on a welcome sunny afternoon they proved that lightening really could strike twice as Kenny McLean split the Motherwell defence and substitute Guy neatly tucked the ball under Randolph to give the Buddies a shock lead.
Deflated yet again it looked as though Motherwell had run out of ideas. But once again McFadden, the master alchemist, stepped forward and bent a delicious 25-yard free kick past the helpless Samson. “People were shouting at me to make changes, including McFadden. But I thought they were doing so well they all deserved to stay on” smiled McCall. It was a pretty smart decision.