THE two managers’ faces after this match told the story of the game better than any of their words.
SCORERS - Anier 31, 64, Ainsworth 42
St Mirren’s careworn gaffer Danny Lennon looked like he was back to the bad old days when he came within a match of losing his job, his woes plain to see as he dissected his side’s performance (or, more accurately, lack of it). For Motherwell’s Stuart McCall, whose side were comfortable winners, this is truly the season to be jolly.
“We have quality in this squad and today we showed that. To win like that was very pleasing,” said McCall.
“I’ve had better afternoons,” said a downcast Lennon. “I’m highly frustrated. We came here and dropped one or two gears. Our work ethic wasn’t up to it and Motherwell showed a greater hunger, which hurts. Our decision-making on the ball was very, very poor and they thoroughly deserved the win.”
St Mirren, who had not lost on their last four visits to Fir Park, arrived on the back of a run in which they had gone three games without a win and were clearly looking to stop that sequence becoming a drought. Yet, while Danny Lennon’s men looked threatening whenever they got the ball into the final third of the pitch, it reached the danger area all too infrequently. Such was Motherwell’s work rate and dominance in midfield, where skipper Keith Lasley marshalled his men superbly, that Saints found it enormously difficult to get the ball to their front men and eventually resorted to lumping long balls up to Gary Harkins.
If the visitors struggled to turn their good intentions into goals, Motherwell did not, despite the early heroics of Saints keeper Marian Kello. Such was their organisation and creativity in midfield that they moved the ball swiftly into the final third, gradually ramping up the pressure until St Mirren’s defiance was broken. In the early exchanges it helped that in Lionel Ainsworth, Motherwell had a potent attacking threat who provided a constant outlet down the right as the home side moved the ball forward quickly at every available opportunity. The extent of his threat was obvious when, with the match just seconds old, he whipped in a cross which Henri Anier headed inches wide.
When Motherwell’s first goal eventually came, just after the half-hour mark, it was absolute quality. Lasley played the ball into Anier in the box, where the Estonian striker looked to be surrounded by defenders, yet he twisted and turned, showing great close control until he worked himself into space and smashed the ball into the roof of the net for a wonderful solo goal.
For all Motherwell’s domination of possession and territory up to that point, they had struggled to carve out any truly clear-cut chances save for a set-piece header from Shaun Hutchinson yet, as soon as Anier’s goal hit the back of the net, it appeared as if the floodgates had been unlocked. Ainsworth almost immediately added a second, cutting in from the right and driving the ball low across goal, only missing the back post by inches.
Always a threat, Ainsworth then added a second ten minutes after Anier’s opener and just before the interval. Like the Estonian’s goal, it was a moment of class, Anier passing the ball into the box and John Sutton’s deft control playing it into Ainsworth’s path. The Englishman found himself with time and space, with only Kello to beat and coolly slotted the ball to the Saints keeper’s left to make it 2-0 at the interval,
a scoreline which didn’t remotely flatter McCall’s men.
Although St Mirren continued to press in the second half, with Kenny McLean forcing on-loan Well keeper Dan Twardzik into his first serious save ten minutes after half-time, and Harkins’ glancing header going just wide midway through the second half, Motherwell were in charge throughout. Indeed, as Saints tried getting back into the match they left themselves increasingly vulnerable to Motherwell’s counterattacks.
With the home side moving the ball increasingly quickly and fluently, that threat was to become a reality after 63 minutes. The ball was swiftly moved down the left until Iain Vigurs whipped in the perfect cross for the onrushing Anier, whose beautifully controlled volley arrowed into the corner of the net, giving Kello no chance whatsoever.
That goal – like the two which preceded it – was a combination of incisive passing, fantastic close control and a determination to be first to the ball that typified the differences between the two sides. And it could easily have been worse for Lennon’s men as Motherwell warmed to their task, pouring forward every time another of the visitors’ attempted attacks broke down. It was, therefore, completely understandable when, with quarter of an hour left to play and the possibility of a four or five-goal defeat looming large, the visitors shut up shop and got men behind the ball in what proved an effective damage limitation exercise.
For Motherwell, though, the season is now firmly back on track and a second-placed finish is now well within their sights and, based on this emphatic victory, capabilities.