THERE were touches of the James McFadden magic at Fir Park tonight. The jinking past defenders, the impish upfront movement and the sleek control all in evidence.
Scorers: Dundee United - Russell (17)
Referee: S Finnie
Unfortunately for Motherwell, these features were to be found in the play of Dundee United attackers Johnny Russell and Gary Mackay-Steven. The contribution of the pair was instrumental in Jackie McNamara’s side registering the win that moves them to within four points of the second placed Fir Park side.
Mackay-Steven set-up Russell for the strike that separated the sides but both players might have ended the encounter, wherein Motherwell pinned them back for long spells, with doubles, each of them having efforts cleared of the line in the closing minutes.
By then, the Motherwell
faithful had been delivered what they craved, which was the introduction of McFadden from the bench.
Called into action 73 minutes in, he could not make the dramatic impact a day after the former Everton and Birmingham City attacker dramatically rejoined his first club.
His only notable contribution, aside from attempting to take on a posse of player and running into traffic – another blast from the past, in truth – was smacking a late free kick that floored John Rankin.
A banner held up by the Motherwell supporters said everything about the where the anticipation pre-match had crystalised. “Welcome home Faddy, our hero returns” it said.
And after a near two-and-a-half year hiatus from regular game-time that resulted from injury problems then an inability to make a breakthrough with Sunderland for the first part of the season, the Fir Park favourite returned to an all-too-familiar haunt – the bench.
That was as it should be, desire his 48 caps and 15 goals and his status as the most high-profile signing by a Scottish club this season.
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall stressed that deal struck earlier thsi evening to sign the 29-year-old idolised by the Tartan Amy for a slew of mercurial moments – “out of the blue” after McFadden chapped on his door that afternoon – shouldn’t blind to the fact that the Lanarkshire team were sitting second because they had attackers who were producing.
In Michael Higdon and Henrik Ojamaa, no less than the league’s joint-top scorer and top assister, he pointed out.
It was the quality of the one man leading the line against Motherwell earlier tonight that put an onfield striker centre-stage in the early part of proceedings, though.
Johnny Russell made if five goals in four games under Jackie McNamara’ with a cool finish after 17 minutes of a confrontation that teemed with slick forward play from both sides.
United were certainly switched on and little wonder. While, for outsiders, the night might have been all about
McFadden, for Jackie McNamara’s men the encounter was all about making amends.
The early gleam that accompanied the new United
manager’s early weeks in charge was well and truly dulled by the almighty dunt suffered in losing 6-2 away to Celtic at the
In order to staunch the loss of goals while deprived of long-term injury casualty Gavin Gunning, McNamara last night resorted to predecessor Peter Houston’s emergency provison whenever problems arose with porousness or personnel in the backline. He switched Jon Daly from centre-forward to centre-half. It had the desired effect, even if the visitors had a job seeking to contain Ojamaa. He was perpetual motion with his jinking, twisting runs that constantly threatened to pierce United’s defences.
However, whereas on Saturday Celtic seemed to be allowed to sashay through the central defensive twosome of Brian McLean and Sean Dilon as if they weren’t there, from the first moment to the last at Fir Park, those in the business of goal prevention for the visitors gave it the required commitment in stretching legs to stop crosses, make blocks and saving tackles.
Plenty were required as Motherwell produced concerted periods of pressure when it seemed certain Daly and his cohorts would be breached.
They had, after all, gone into the game as the team who, with the figure 48 in the goals against column, had conceded more times in the league than any side outside of their near neighbours Dundee.
Yet, for all that, the two most incisive performers were in United colours. And the decisive goal demonstrated what can make the Tannadice men such a potent force when they put it all together.
Mackay-Steven was the architect for the counter, the winger bursting through the middle before threading a perfectly weighted pass between the Motherwell centre-backs to the feet of Russell inside the left channel. The striker then steadied himself before steering the ball into the far corner of Darren Randolph’s net.
Both Russell and Mackay-Steven had further opportunities to increase their team’s advantage as McNamara’s side continued to be dangerous on the counter throughout the first period. For the first quarter of an hour, United could not get out of their own half but, aside from requiring to be assured dealing with cross balls, keeper Radoslaw Cierzniak did not have too many moments to set his heart racing.
With the exception of Nicky Law grazing the crossbar with an effort with Pole beaten.
His Motherwell counterpart, in contrast, had to deny Russell when the striker was clean through, before the United front pair were narrowly prevented from making McFadden’s presence an irrelevance. On the opening night of his return tour of duty, it wasn’t telling, or any moments to retell.