MOTHERWELL, inspired by the magnificent Lionel Ainsworth, eased their relegation worries with a ruthless second-half demolition of their ailing local rivals Hamilton Accies last night.
Scorers: Ainsworth 49,′ 50′, Sutton 80′, 83′ (pen)
The victory, secured by doubles from Ainsworth and substitute John Sutton, hoisted Ian Baraclough’s resurgent side four points clear of bottom-placed
St Mirren and left their visitors, now without a win in 11 matches, staring at the once-unlikely prospect of missing out on the top six.
Hamilton arrived at Fir Park boasting a flawless record from the three previous Lanarkshire derbies, with a penalty shootout victory in the League Cup in September followed by 4-0 and 5-0 romps in the Premiership.
Of course, those triumphs were achieved at a time when they still had Alex Neil in charge and Tony Andreu and Mickael Antoine-Curier banging in the goals.
Those three key figures all departed earlier this year, and the team’s confidence and momentum have appeared to go with them. From being top of the league just a matter of months ago, the struggling New Douglas Park side could slip into the bottom six if results go against them today.
On a pleasant early-spring evening, both sides signalled their intent in the opening few minutes with shots from distance. Hamilton’s Ali Crawford was first to try his luck when he surged deep into the Motherwell half and unleased a shot from 25 yards which was held by George Long in the second minute.
At the other end, Josh Law’s free kick from just outside the box was clutched by Michael McGovern.
The visitors carved their first clear opening in nine minutes when Crawford teed up Grant Gillespie, but his shot from the edge of the box was just too high to trouble Long. Crawford then pinged a strike narrowly over from around 25 yards out after Kieran MacDonald’s cross from the left was only partially cleared in the 17th minute.
Motherwell then went on to enjoy a period of pressure and after Scott McDonald’s low cross from the left drifted agonisingly beyond the far post, Ainsworth warmed the palms of McGovern when he ran on to a Stephen Pearson pass and rasped a powerful shot goalwards from the edge of the box in 23 minutes.
Three minutes later Accies centre-back Nicky Devlin had to make a crucial block to deny Lee Erwin as he burst on to a cutback from Ainsworth. The Accies goal was living a charmed life and moments later Tena did just enough to turn a Marvin Johnson cross behind and away from Erwin who was lurking at the back post waiting to tap into an open goal. The visitors almost took the lead in stunning fashion in 29 minutes but Crawford’s magnificent left-footed volley from the edge of the box arced inches wide.
A minute before the break, Law nearly put the ball into his own net when he dispossessed Jason Scotland in the box and inadvertently curled his clearance just wide of Long’s left-hand post.
The deadlock was broken in emphatic fashion three minutes into the second half. After Pearson was fouled midway inside the Accies half, Keith Lasley rolled a quick free kick to Ainsworth and the Englishman thundered a breathtaking 30-yard strike past the helpless McGovern.
No sooner had the shellshocked Accies keeper plucked the ball from his net than he was doing so again. Less than 20 seconds after the match had restarted, Johnson crossed from the left and Ainsworth was on hand at the back post to turn it back into the net from a tight angle. Fir Park was in raptures and the home support were almost celebrating again in 53 minutes. Yet again it was Ainsworth threatening, but his volley from McDonald’s cross was clutched by McGovern. Accies’ hopes of a fightback were effectively dashed in 65 minutes when Darren Lyon was shown a straight red card for what was a reckless tackle on Johnson.
However, Nigel Hasselbaink, who came off the bench in the immediate aftermath of his team-mate’s dismissal, did spurn two good opportunities to reduce Hamilton’s arrears within seven minutes of coming on. Ainsworth almost got his hat-trick in 75 minutes when he ran clean through and shot inches wide of the far post from the edge of the box.
The winger had to settle instead for signing off with an assist, as he delivered a perfect cross for Sutton, who had just come on, to nod home his side’s third from virtually under the crossbar in the 80th minute.
Ainsworth was substituted to a standing ovation for the home fans, but Motherwell weren’t finished inflicting pain on their local rivals.
Three minutes later, Erwin was fouled in the box by Ziggy Gordon and Sutton stepped up to convert the penalty and exact a semblance of revenge for those early-season derby hidings.
Motherwell: Long, Law, Laing, McManus, Straker, Ainsworth (Moore 80), Pearson, Lasley, Johnson (D Thomas 85), McDonald (Sutton 77), Erwin. Subs not used: Grant, N Thomas, Kerr, Twardzik.
Hamilton: McGovern, Gordon, Devlin, Tena, MacDonald, Imrie (Brophy 80), Lyon, Gillespie, Crawford, Redmond (Longridge 74), Scotland (Hasselbaink 65). Subs not used: Canning, MacKinnon, Docherty, Hill.
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