Motherwell manager Stuart McCall told his players to come out fighting following their 5-1 thrashing by Dundee United, as he refused to give up on a Scottish Premiership runners-up spot.
Dundee United 5-1 Motherwell
Scorers: Dundee United - Ciftci (8,41), Armstrong (61), Dow (72), Graham (81); Motherwell - Ainsworth (88)
Motherwell produced a wretched display at Tannadice as they slipped four points behind Aberdeen with three games remaining. However, McCall has targeted consecutive home wins over St Johnstone and Inverness which, with Aberdeen facing trips to Celtic Park and Tannadice, he will hope gives them a chance of consigning the Dons to third place on the final day of the season at Pittodrie. “I said before the game, to get where we want to go we would need to win our last three games,” McCall said.
“Obviously if we play like that next Saturday with St Johnstone we won’t have a chance. But we have a group of players who are hurting. You don’t win 19 out of 35 games by being a poor side or doing that every week.
“So we know we can do a lot better and we’ll look at a lot of things this week, and come Saturday at three o’clock we have got to be ready.
“Things can change so easily in football. I’ve still got great belief that we can have a season that we will be really pleased with. We have got to move on, pick ourselves up and we can have no hangover next week because we have to win our last three games and we can do that, there is no doubt about it.”
Stuart Armstrong twice set up Nadir Ciftci to finish off blistering moves in a first half in which Motherwell looked ill at ease with their midfield formation. Defender Fraser Kerr was played on the right and Iain Vigurs and Jack Leitch ahead of Keith Lasley in the middle with little protection for left-back Steven Hammell, who endured a miserable 500th appearance for the club.
Their defence was pulled apart on several first-half occasions by a United side full of pace, movement and invention, and after brief glimpses of a comeback early in the second half, Armstrong finished off the contest in the 61st minute when he was played clean through the middle by Ryan Dow.
Dow was given yards of space to chest down Gavin Gunning’s cross to fire home a fourth, and another pass through the middle allowed Brian Graham to score United’s 14th goal of the season against their opponents, before Lionel Ainsworth’s late consolation.
McCall’s team could have clinched European football at Tannadice, but United closed the gap to four points to maintain their chances of sealing a Europa League place before the William Hill Scottish Cup final against St Johnstone.
Assistant manager Simon Donnelly said: “That was our objective going into the game. We are still chasing the teams in front of us and it has given us a chance. The cup final will take care of itself. It’s an extra little incentive for the boys to keep their jerseys, but there are three games before that and you want to go into that final on top form. So it’s all to play for.”