A PAIR of late goals by Michael Higdon, one bundled in at the second attempt, the other a ferocious header, yesterday maintained Motherwell’s position at the top of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League.
Scorers: Dundee - Nish (20); Motherwell - Higdon (74, 85)
Bookings: Motherwell - Law, Lasley
The big striker had been his usual handful throughout, but it was only when he had the support around him of Henrik Ojamaa, a second-half substitute, that he was able to turn on its head a match that
Dundee had led from the 20th minute.
The win came as quite a relief to the Lanarkshire side, who are now a point ahead of Hibernian and four ahead of Celtic at the top of the table, although Stuart McCall, their manager, would rather not indulge in talk of a title race.
“I have to be honest, it’s irrelevant to me, this top-of-the-league stuff,” said McCall.
“It’s about amassing the points. It’s maybe nice for the players and their families to see them up
there, but I think we all know where the title is going to end up.
There’s no excitement in that part of it.”
He should be in Dundee’s position. They are back at the bottom of the league, despite playing as well in the first half as they have all season, thanks in part to the debut performance of Mark Kerr.
Their backs were to the wall in the second half, as they were at Tynecastle a fortnight ago, but their defence is not of the watertight variety boasted by Ross County, their fellow SPL newcomers.
“It’s another harsh lesson for us,” said Barry Smith, their manager. “If you lose concentration for a split second, you get punished at this level.
“We played well enough, but we need to start learning quickly that we cannot afford those lapses in concentration.”
Motherwell had a gusting wind at their backs in the first half, but it was an advantage they struggled to harness. Too many long balls either drifted out of play or were miscontrolled by their targets. When they did succeed in slinging it about, they were quickly closed down in the final third.
Neil McGregor, Gary Irvine and Jim McAlister all put their bodies on the line with a succession of blocks.
This, in all probability, is what Dundee will have to be good at if they are to have any chance of surviving in the SPL, but there are signs that they have in their locker a cutting edge when the mood takes them.
Lewis Toshney proved as much when he stepped on to McAlister’s square pass across the penalty area. The defender’s clever touch sent the ball spinning towards the bottom corner, but Darren Randolph scooped it away with a dive low to his right.
Dundee had netted their first league goal of the season with a penalty at Tynecastle two weeks earlier, but they had yet to score from open play. When they went ahead, the play was very open. John Baird hooked his cross into a relatively unpopulated box, but for some reason, the visiting defence chose not to police the one player with a chance of scoring.
Colin Nish gratefully peeled even further off his “marker”, sent his header back across the goalkeeper and watched as it looped in off the far post.
A paltry smattering of Motherwell fans behind the goal had little to cheer other than a surfeit of corners that came to little. Rab Douglas was repeatedly up to the task, as were the Dundee defenders, who allowed his opponents only one attempt on goal before half-time. That came when Higdon chested down a throw by Fraser Kerr and hooked it off the base of the left-hand post.
After the interval, it was Dundee who struggled with the conditions. Motherwell had almost all of the possession, but apart from Tom Hateley’s tame shot wide and a low ball across the six-yard area by Nicky Law, they were slow to make use of it.
Instead, it was Dundee who nearly scored with a chance that came out of nothing. When Baird collected Matt Lockwood’s throw-in with his back to goal, he was strong enough to hold the ball up for a supporting runner. Nish soon obliged, but after accepting the lay-off, could only trundle a low shot beyond the far post.
McCall brought on Ojamaa and Omar Daley, an injection of pace that seemed to make a difference. Within nine minutes of his arrival, Ojamaa was delivering the cross that created his team’s equaliser. Higdon did his best to miss it, mind you, fluffing his first hit so convincingly that Douglas went to ground, a mistake that made it impossible for the goalkeeper to save the striker’s second attempt, a miss-hit shot that this time spun over the line. Just.
It was not the most convincing of finishes, but the one that gave Motherwell their winner certainly was. When Hateley picked him out with a corner delivered low and hard, the striker’s instinctive header exploded past Douglas and into the net.