TWO valuable contributions last night by Motherwell’s most consistent goalscorers, Lionel Ainsworth and John Sutton, kept their European ambitions nicely on the horizon.
Motherwell 2 - 0 Inverness
SCORERS: Motherwell: Ainsworth (26), Sutton (34)
Referee: A Muir
Venue: Fir Park
TWO valuable contributions by Motherwell’s most consistent goalscorers, Lionel Ainsworth and John Sutton, kept their European ambitions on track.
The pair struck in the first half at Fir Park to secure a victory which moved Stuart McCall’s side on to the same points as second-placed Aberdeen in the SPFL Premiership, but with an inferior goal difference.
Ainsworth got his ninth goal of the campaign, while Sutton has weighed in with 18. Their contributions ensured Inverness Caledonian Thistle did not find any comfort in
Lanarkshire after their League Cup final defeat by Aberdeen.
John Hughes’ team now have some work to do if they want to get the Europa League place offered for finishing third but, with no other cup distractions, they have a clear itinerary.
Just three days after penalties were a crushing end to the club’s first-ever final, the contrast to that day at Celtic Park was undeniably evident. Caley Thistle forged a reputation under previous manager Terry Butcher of making the most of their road trips, despite their modest band of followers, and went a year unbeaten away from home in the league and even secured a success at Celtic last season.
Motherwell, though, have Europe in their sights yet again and, with Stuart McCall celebrating his 150th match in charge of the club, there was added motivation to move a step closer to qualifying for the sixth time in seven seasons.
The desire among McCall’s players was tangible, with James McFadden in an advanced role alongside John Sutton and the former Scotland forward produced a sublime lay-off for Stevie Hammell, which was whipped into the box. Sutton just failed to finish at the near post.
It did not take the visitors long to make an impression and Billy McKay showed why he is Caley Thistle’s greatest threat as he latched on to a clever knockdown by James Vincent and produced a left-foot volley from the edge of the box which drew a fine save from Gunnar Nielsen.
Seven minutes later, McKay was picked out again, by a David Raven’s cross from the right, and this time fashioned a right-footed shot equally as accurate. Again Nielsen smothered it.
The hosts offered a hint of what was to come when Lionel Ainsworth was only prevented from sweeping in Stuart Carswell’s 25th minute cut-back by the excellence of Dean Brill. The goalkeeper then kept out Keith Lasley’s effort from the subsequent corner. However, there was nothing he could do to prevent Ainsworth breaking the deadlock 60 seconds later. The winger was picked out by a superb crossfield pass from Hammell and took the ball in stride with a perfect touch before in thrashing a right-foot shot.
That advantage was doubled six minutes before the interval when Sutton scored his 18th of the season. Again the provider was Hammell as a low ball across the face of goal was met by
Sutton, who stooped to plant a header into the net.
Hughes responded to that setback by taking Aaron Doran off at half-time and introducing Ryan Christie for the second half, with the teenager operating just behind McKay.
However, it was Motherwell who came closest to finding the net in the early stages of the second half, with McFadden almost producing an audacious finish to Iain Vigurs’ fine cross, but the Fir Park talisman’s trajectory was too high. Then, Shaun Hutchinson placed a header narrowly wide from another accurate
corner by Carswell.
Caley Thistle began to commit more men in search of a way back into the contest and a fine period of pressure in the 56th minute almost yielded a goal.
Irishman Richie Foran was at the heart of the move before Greg Tansey’s fierce shot was cleared off the line by Motherwell right-back Craig Reid.
Another save by Nielsen, down at his near post, from Graeme Shinnie’s shot in the 65th minute was evidence that Inverness had not been killed off. Foran then drew the ire of his former supporters by getting involved in a row with Carswell, after which both were booked.
Motherwell: Nielsen, Reid, Hutchinson, McManus, Hammell, Carswell, Lasley, Vigurs, Ainsworth, Sutton, McFadden (Francis-Angol 74). Subs not used: Stewart, Moore, Murray, Leitch, Thomas, Cadden.
Inverness: Brill, Raven, Devine, Meekings, Shinnie, Vincent (Watkins 75), Ross Draper, Foran, Tansey, McKay, Doran (Christie 46). Subs not used: Esson, Warren, Ross, Tremarco, Williams.