THE high-fiving, the punching the air, and the excitable tones with which the tannoy announcer introduced “for the first time in a while” a song with the refrain “beautiful day” at full-time told of the momentous nature of events at Fir Park yesterday for those of a Motherwell persuasion.
Scorers: Motherwell - Laing 48; Ainsworth 84; Inverness Caley Thistle - Ofere 76
The Lanarkshire club’s first victory of 2015, which condemned their visitors, Inverness, to a first defeat of the year, offered some desperately needed respite for manager Ian Baraclough. So early in his Motherwell sting, he has presided over an eight-game run, in which his side has suffered seven defeats. The Englishman did not attempt to downplay the importance of a three-point haul that was earned by a deflected effort from hardly warmed-up substitute Lionel Ainsworth five minutes from the end of normal time.
Asked if the final whistle engendered relief or delight, Baraclough said the result made for “those” and “more as well. That is because football is an emotional game and there was a full range of emotions today, I can tell you,” he said. “The biggest one was pleasure for the lads because it was a real effort not just from the 11 but those on the bench too. Everyone is rallying around and together because they know what it means.”
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For Ainsworth, who netted courtesy of a drilled effort from the edge of the area that spun off the foot of Ross Draper to send it beyond the reach of goalkeeper George Long, the clincher proved a ‘told-you-so’ intervention to his manager. Left-out, as was John Sutton, so that prodigal son Scott McDonald could be accommodated, the English forward knew he “could come on and do something”. “I have been disappointed for a while [in not starting] and was a bit gutted [to be on the bench] but I will go home and take another goal for my tally. First and foremost, it is about the team. The fight the boys put in today was unbelievable.”
The problem for Motherwell is that all the clubs around them in the Premiership yesterday scraped to post wins. The upshot is that, for all that the Fir Park club produced a gutsy performance unrecognisable from the side who failed in abject fashion to Dundee the week before, they still sit at the foot of the table owing to fellow strugglers St Mirren and Ross County both winning yesterday. “Not at all” were the results of these two teams a frustration on the day. “We can only take care of ourselves,” Baraclough said. “We did that today and if we continue to do that we will be fine.”
Motherwell looked fine to end their winless agonies when they claimed a deserved lead after Louis Laing powered in a header from a Conor Grant whipped-in cross from the right. Inverness have not nestled into third place – and been unthreatened in that position despite two recent draws – without possessing resilience and an application to wriggle out of tight spots. Yesterday, they also had a new weapon, too, with Nigerian international Edward Ofere making his first start since signing for the season following three days’ training in the Highlands.
He didn’t entirely overshadow the new forward signing supposed to be the story of the day. Motherwell’s second-spell striker McDonald brought cohesion to the final-third efforts of his team across the 69 minutes he was given on a return after seven-and-a-half years. However, Ofere, last sighted in Norway following spells in Sweden and Italy, contributed enough to give his manager, John Hughes, encouragement from an afternoon that brought to an end a ten-game sequence without defeat in all competitions.
When Graeme Shinnie floated over an inviting centre from the left the big striker seemed to twist in the air in order to plant his header high into the net. “The big fella looks an asset,” he said of the 77th-minute strike. “You can tell he’s been about a bit. He leads the line really well. He’s miles off, fitness wise, but he’s always smiling.” For the first time in too long, it was Motherwell that had something to smile about yesterday.
Motherwell: George Long, Ramsden, Laing, McManus, Law, Grant, Lasley, Johnson (Ainsworth 81), Pearson, McDonald (Sutton 68), Erwin (Moore 77). Subs not used: Carswell, Twardzik, Kerr, Dominic Thomas.
Inverness CT: Esson, Raven, Devine, Meekings, Shinnie, Williams (Ferguson 58), Draper, Tansey, Ross (Doran 73), Ofere, Christie. Subs not used: Horner, Tremarco, Polworth, Mackay, Sutherland.
Referee: Alan Muir. Attendance: 3,508