WHILE there is nothing to be gained from self-pity in the Premiership relegation battle, Motherwell are entitled to feel sorry for themselves.
Dundee United - 3
Telfer 61, 90; Fojut 68
Motherwell - 1
They have lost their last five matches, conceded 17 goals in the process and, if yesterday’s setback at Tannadice is any guide, mislaid a little luck in the process.
In the end, this was comfortable for United, who triumphed courtesy of three second-half goals – two by Charlie Telfer, one by Jaroslaw Fojut – but it might have been different had the visitors, earlier denied a clear penalty, not been frustrated by a bizarre refereeing controversy just before the interval.
Motherwell were angry, not to say a little bemused, by the incident. When Stephen Pearson burst through the middle and laid it off to John Sutton, a tackle by Sean Dillon caused the ball to spin goalwards. Just as it looked set to slip inside the post, Calum Morris raced back to clear.
Then came the confusion. Craig Thomson, who will referee next weekend’s Old Firm derby, headed for the centre circle, signalling that the ball had crossed the line, only for his assistant to raise a flag. After the two had a chat, they decided that it had not been a goal after all.
Ian Baraclough, the Motherwell manager, requested an explanation from Thomson. “Apparently the linesman shouted ‘play on’ and the referee thought he shouted ‘goal’. It’s easy to mix those two words up, isn’t it? I’ve just seen it again and the [defender’s] standing foot is on the line. The foot that he has cleared it with is behind the standing foot. Make your own assumption.”
To make matters worse, when Thomson restarted play with a dropped ball on the edge of the six-yard box, he denied Pearson the right to contest it. “If one team doesn’t want it uncontested, surely they have to go and contest it,” said
Baraclough. “Bit confusing, that one.”
Until then, it had been a disjointed, featureless game, thanks partly to the seven changes Jackie NcNamara made to his United side. For a while, rejected penalty claims at either end were all the teams could muster. Aidan Connolly’s shot appeared to be handled by Stephen McManus, Lee Erwin went down after a challenge by Blair Spittal and, most controversially, a Morris tackle ended with Pearson on the turf. “That’s a stonewall,” said Baraclough.
There were few scoring opportunities before half-time. Sutton had one, but instead of hitting it first time, he took a touch – and a bad one at that – so that United were able to recover. At the other end, Blair Spittal cleverly flicked the ball round his marker before poking a left-foot
volley that Dan Twardzik turned round the post.
If Motherwell, and Pearson in particular, were feeling aggrieved, a miss by the same player, early in the second half, also proved costly. Within four minutes of his shot straight at the goalkeeper, Telfer gave United the lead with a low effort, through a crowded box and into the bottom left-hand corner.
The introduction of Nadir Ciftci had lifted United. Seven minutes after the opener, they doubled their lead, this time when Connolly swung in a corner, Stephen McManus bumped into Ciftci and Fojut’s weak header found its way into the net.
With 12 minutes left, Motherwell pulled one back. Lionel Ainsworth, a substitute, capitalised on Dillon’s moment of hesitation by cutting the ball back from the byline. Simon Ramsden hooked it in from 12 yards.
It made for a nervy finish, although United settled the issue in stoppage time. Out near the corner flag, Ryan Dow picked out Telfer, who carefully placed a firm shot inside the far corner. It was his fourth goal since joining the club from Rangers, but it was his overall contribution that delighted McNamara. “His creativity is as pleasing as anything because he’s involved in everything good about our play,” said McNamara. “He’s still such a young lad, but he looks like an experienced player in there.”
Dundee United: Cierzniak, Spittal, Morris,Fojut, Dillon, Telfer, Butcher, Connolly (Mackay-Steven 69), Armstrong (Paton 80), Dow, Anier (Ciftci 56).
Motherwell: Twardzik, Reid, Kerr, McManus, Watt, Law (Moore 66), Carswell (Ainsworth 75), Ramsden, Pearson, Erwin, Sutton.
Referee: C Thomson. Attendance: 7,176