Motherwell have lost 1-0 to Kuban Krasnodar in Russia and 3-0 on aggregate to miss out on a place in the Europa League play-offs.
A Stephen McManus own goal and Bob McHugh’s missed penalty denied Motherwell a morale-boosting result against Kuban Krasnodar as they exited the Europa League in Russia.
The Lanarkshire side were relatively comfortable, without having seriously threatened to cut their 2-0 first-leg deficit, before McManus headed into his own net five minutes into the second half.
Motherwell, who were without three key attacking players, had the perfect chance to level in the final minute after Djibril Cisse handled Stevie Hammell’s free-kick but substitute McHugh saw his effort saved.
Their small band of fans at least had something to celebrate earlier when Gunnar Nielsen marked his debut with a 75th-minute penalty save from Charles Kabore.
With a six-and-a-half-hour flight after the game, Motherwell manager Stuart McCall took the bold decision to leave key attacking players James McFadden, John Sutton and Iain Vigurs in Scotland to prevent them aggravating muscle issues ahead of Sunday’s Scottish Premiership clash with Aberdeen.
McCall insisted he was not being defeatist and the decision allowed him to pick a team more suited to tracking and pressing the opposition. Full-backs Fraser Kerr and Zaine Francis-Angol came in on the flanks of Motherwell’s five-man midfield with the energetic Stuart Carswell in the middle, while the hard-working Henri Anier came in up front.
About 50 Motherwell fans who had overcome the visa and travel difficulties were treated to some pre-match Cossack sword-fighting and dancing as the hosts marked their home European debut in style.
The scale of Motherwell’s task was highlighted by the fact Kuban have not been beaten in the Russian Premier League since November last year, but the visitors made a composed start.
The home side only made sporadic bursts forward in the opening quarter. David Tsoraev looped a header over following Ibrahima Balde’s clipped cross and Kabore charged into the box and cut the ball back but Anton Sosnin could not keep his volley down.
Motherwell almost got in behind the hosts twice with Francis-Angol threatening to break clear until he was caught up, before Anier’s driven cross was deflected just wide after he pounced on a short header back.
Balde almost got through on goal three times from Kabore balls but Motherwell survived each time and Nielsen made his first save in the 36th minute when he got down to hold Balde’s long-range strike.
Kuban pushed Motherwell back for longer spells as the half progressed but Nielsen was not troubled again.
It was so far so good for McCall’s plan to keep it tight and try to steal the opening goal before throwing everything forward in the final stages, but a decent start to the second half was punctured by McManus’s misjudgement.
Left-back Roman Bugaev sent over a cross into the six-yard box but there was little apparent danger and McManus, facing his goal and under little pressure, headed straight into the top corner as he tried to clear over the bar.
Nielsen soon produced an excellent one-handed save to push away a 25-yard strike by Marcos Urena and then held Balde’s curling effort as the hosts stepped up a gear.
But Motherwell threatened when Kerr got round the outside following Paul Lawson’s diagonal ball and crossed for Anier, who turned his man but was closed down as he shot, before Keith Lasley saw his follow-up shot charged down.
McCall made a double switch with 20 minutes left but there was no change in tactics as McHugh replaced Anier and Adam Cummins came into the midfield anchor role for Lawson.
Nielsen got his chance to shine when Hutchinson caught Balde after some quick feet from the Senegal striker. Kabore hit the penalty low and hard to the right of Nielsen but the Faroe Islands international got down quickly and produced a strong hand to push the ball away.
Motherwell then looked set to end their European adventure on a further high but Aleksandr Belenov dived to his left to push away McHugh’s powerful spot-kick to make it seven consecutive European games without a goal for the Steelmen.