HERE was a weird and wonderful encounter of the classic kind. Kilmarnock took the lead through a Steven Hammell own goal, and then a pummelling in the opening period, only to seal a first win in five league outings with a stonking header from William Gros midway through the second.
At that point their visitors elected to turn the afternoon into a game of “Get James Dayton”, with substitute
Fraser Kerr – who didn’t touch the ball during his four minutes on the field – and then Fir Park captain Keith Lasley receiving straight red cards for wild whacks on the winger. In terms of the incident quotient at least, none of the 4,246 could feel short-changed.
Where you start with this confrontation is at the end. Or rather a nasty end for Kerr in 82 minutes… before he really had provided a beginning. For Lasley, with a minute of normal time remaining, it was the good old-fashioned “frustration” thing. To the observer, it seemed that Dayton had deeply offended his opponents with a spot of showboating and was therefore targeted. The player himself had no truck with either suggestion. “I had a couple of bruises,” he said. “I don’t mind that but people will still say I dived. They absolutely wiped me out both times, and both were sendings off, in my opinion. I try to get on the ball and show what I can do but with the Kerr one, I tried to get half a yard, couldn’t and kept it and he uplifted me.”
Motherwell manager Stewart McCall defended his player in so much as he said he “doesn’t have a malicious bone in his body” and put the gruesome-looking scythe down to Dayton being too quick to move the ball away. Lasley’s dismissal he declared “unacceptable”, a term he may have also used over the result.
It seemed inconceivable that Motherwell could have so many opportunities after the 13th-minute misfortune – when Hammell poked a cross-shot from Ross Barbour past his own goalkeeper – with nothing to show for their domination. “If it had been a boxing match it would have been stopped at half time,” said McCall. But ultimately the visitors didn’t box clever, Lasley twice failing to deliver the knock-out in scooping efforts over the bar with the goal at his mercy from a few yards out. Kilmarnock keeper Kyle Letheren played his part in palming a Simon Ramsden header on to the bar, while Gros also came to his team’s rescue by blocking a Shaun Hutchinson effort on the line.
Once again deputising for the almost permanently banished Kenny Shiels, Rugby Park assistant Jimmy Nicholl said: “Motherwell must have been sitting in the dressing room saying ‘how the hell is this game 1-0 to them?’
“And I was sitting in our dressing room thinking: ‘how the hell are we winning 1-0?’”
In the second period, Nicholl said his team “sorted it out” by playing up the pitch and switching Dayton and Gros to wide positions from the inside role and the frontline position that the pair had respectively occupied in the opening period.
“We were a bit worried about that but it worked,” Nicholl said of a switch that helped Kilmarnock move up two places to eighth.
It did so because, from deep on the left with 18 minutes remaining, Dayton flighted a ball into the box that Gros hung in the air to meet before snapping his neck muscles and sending a downward header zipping past Darren Randolph.
Thereafter, McCall’s so-called boxing match turned into the crazy
kick-fest on Dayton. “But we were 2-0 up when Motherwell had their full complement, so we didn’t
win because they went down to
ten men,” Nicholl was keen to point out.
McCall, whose team missed the chance to go second in the league, refused to believe that more than discipline…and three points… and two players in a tight squad for a couple of games, had been lost in Ayrshire.
“For the last half hour of the first half I was really pleased with how they played. We created opportunities but just couldn’t put the ball in the net and that’s what the game’s about, but on another day we could have been two or three up. There’s no doom and gloom. With no disrespect it looks like Dundee are going to fall out the league and Celtic will win it then you’ve got ten teams really evenly matched all battling it out and we’re in there.”