MOTHERWELL manager Stuart McCall has sounded a rallying call to his players as a narrow win over St Johnstone at Fir Park put his side within a point of European football for the sixth season out of seven.
Motherwell 2-1 St Johnstone
Scorers: Motherwell - Ainsworth (21), McManus (36); St Johnstone - Mackay (27)
An early strike by Lionel Ainsworth and a controversial winner by Stephen McManus, either side of a Dave Mackay header for St Johnstone, gave the home side a crucial victory as they moved six points clear in third place ahead of Dundee United and just one point behind second-placed Aberdeen with two games to play.
“I’m delighted,” said McCall. “When you get to this stage of the season it’s all about winning, it’s all about three points. I thought first half we were very good and I thought we deserved to come in ahead.
“The second half was a little bit of a struggle, they had a lot of possession, but I think Lee (Hollis) has only had one save to make, and we’ve defended well when we needed to. I think the first-half performance merited the victory.
“When the split fixtures came out, I said if we were to have any chance we would have to win our last three games, and I don’t think anything’s changed, that will have to be the case. But it’s one down, two to go.
“I said on Friday prior to the game that we’d managed to beat St Johnstone here before, and we’ve done it, we’ve managed to beat Inverness here and we’ve won at Pittodrie this year, so we’re not going to ask the lads to do anything that they’ve not done this season already.
“It’s easy to say it, you’ve got to go out and do it, and there was a lot of relief when the referee blew his whistle at the end there.”
St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright was disappointed with his side’s first-half showing, but felt that their improvement and dominance in the second period should have merited a point.
“The second half we played very well, I thought we were better,” said Wright.
“We had enough opportunities to pull the trigger and have shots and took the wrong choice, but I think second half our passing was better, we won individual battles and we had more control over the game.
“First half we didn’t, so I was really pleased with the response we got at half-time and how we went about our business against a very good side.”
Wright, though, was disappointed at Motherwell’s winning goal being allowed to stand. Confusion reigned all around the stadium as Stephen McManus’s 35th-minute header appeared to be punched off the line by St Johnstone defender Steven Anderson, with the referee eventually awarding the goal on his assistant’s advice rather than a penalty which would have meant also showing Anderson a red card.
Wright felt, however, that the officials had missed a foul in the build-up to the goal which would have rendered the ensuing argument irrelevant.
“I think the controversy is that there’s a foul on Dave Mackay in the build-up to it,” said Wright. “I think there’s confusion with what happens after that, but I think it should have been a foul on Dave Mackay.
“He goes to ground, and I thought actually that was what the referee was pointing to. Then I thought it was a penalty kick, and if it was going to be a penalty kick it was going to be a sending-off and I think that’s maybe what he did, he thought it would be a penalty kick and his assistant’s told him it was over the line.
“So he’s right then to award the goal, but we’re disappointed that there was a foul on Dave Mackay we thought, he doesn’t just go to ground for no reason, and obviously (McManus) is his man and he’s been blocked.”
McCall admitted that he had also been confused by the sequence of events. “My first reaction was penalty kick, he’s off and they’re down to ten men which I started to get quite excited about.
“I got even more excited when I saw the linesman sprinting towards the halfway line, so I knew he had given a goal, or I thought he had given a goal, and obviously there was a bit afterwards where Anderson got booked and I wasn’t really sure what happened. It was all a bit puzzling.”
BT Sport Q&A: Rangers | Hibs | Neil Lennon
THIS week’s BT Sport video Q&A looks at whether Rangers fans will buy season tickets and if the club’s supporters will force a change of ownership.
The form of Hibs under Terry Butcher is also examined following the Easter Road side’s derby defeat while the future of Neil Lennon is also considered following the announcement that his assistant Johan Mjallby is to depart at the end of the season.
• Email your Scottish football question for the BT Sport panel to answer. The next show will be recorded on May 7 after St Johnstone v Celtic, which will also be shown live on BT Sport, with the video available on The Scotsman website the following day. You can also tweet us @TheScotsman.
A line-up of experts will handle your questions after each BT Sport game. Most match days, the team includes Darrell Currie, Derek Rae and Gary McAllister.
Over this season, BT Sport will air 30 SPFL matches plus 10 Rangers games from the SPFL League One.
• T&C We can not guarantee which presenters will answer your questions. Questions are vetted and no correspondence will be entered into.