MOTHERWELL climbed over St Mirren and out of the play-off position with this hard-fought victory at Fir Park. It ended a sequence of six successive defeats and strengthened the case for interim manager Kenny Black to be handed the job on a permanent basis. Black has not applied for the position but has refused to rule himself out of the running and this success will have done his cause no harm.
Scorer: Motherwell - Vigurs (52)
Win boosts Black’s job prospects Unusually, the match programme gave up two pages to an emotional farewell note to the supporters from the previous incumbent, Stuart McCall, and no-one will have been happier to see the Lanarkshire club climb the table than the Scotland coach.
This was a chance for United to stretch their lead at the top of the table and exert pressure on the chasing pack. Instead, both Hamilton Accies and Celtic can now overtake them this weekend.
It was all change on the park, too, with Craig Reid and Mark O’Brien replacing Steven Hammell and Zaine Francis-Angol from the side which had lost 2-1 to St Johnstone seven days earlier.
United manager Jackie McNamara, meanwhile, took a red pen through his starting line-up, even though they had beaten St Mirren 3-0. He made six alterations, with John Souttar, John Rankin, Stuart Armstrong, Chris Erskine, Ryan Dow and Blair Spittal coming in for Sean Dillon, Callum Morris, Charlie Telfer, Calum Butcher, Nadir Ciftci and Mario Bilate.
While the hosts toiled to gain a semblance of fluency, O’Brien collected the first yellow card of the evening for an overly robust tackle on Paul Paton while Stephen McManus did well to slide in and deflect a netbound drive by Ryan Dow after the forward had latched on to a through ball by Chris Erskine.
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As United possessed a poise and purpose their rivals could only aspire to, Conor Townsend was next to threaten, but McManus once again put his body on the line to block the full-back’s venomous volley from Spittal’s cross. The home side took half an hour to conjure up an opening but when they did Iain Vigurs spooned a shot over from 15 yards, although Henrik Ojamaa ought to have shot himself from a better position rather than pass the buck.
United had fallen away after their promising start but increased the tempo again and Spittal ought to have broken the deadlock in the 35th minute. However, sent clear by Connolly, he dragged his shot wide of Dan Twardzik’s left-hand post. The goalkeeper then did well to beat away a full-blooded 20-yarder by Erskine and made an even better save to deny Connolly, leaning back to turn the ball over after the striker’s shot had ricocheted off Lasley.
McManus was then cautioned for a cynical foul on Dow but it helped the Steelmen reach the interval on level terms. Remarkably, however, the game was turned on its head after the restart. Radoslaw Cierzniak fumbled a shot by Craig Reid but, with the goal gaping, Lionel Ainsworth hammered the rebound off the post from inside the six-yard box.
Fortunately for the winger, his gaffe was forgotten three minutes later when Lasley released Vigurs on the left. His low, angled drive from 12 yards was accurate enough but Cierzniak got a hand to it and will feel he should have kept it out.
With United reeling from that unexpected setback, Ainsworth did manage to put the ball in the net from a Lasley through ball but he was denied by the tightest of offside decisions.
Jaroslaw Fojut and Ojamaa were both booked for an altercation off the ball, although the former had appeared to be the aggressor in this instance.
The Estonian sought retribution in the best possible way and his curling shot from the far corner of the penalty area was inches away. It then required a perfectly-timed last-ditch lunge by Conor Townsend to nick the ball away from Ainsworth as he was about to pull the trigger. The full-back, on loan from Hull City, squandered United’s best opening, heading over an inviting cross by Nadir Ciftci as Motherwell notched their first home win since the opening day of the campaign.
Motherwell: Twardzik; Kerr, O’Brien, McManus, Reid; Ainsworth (Law 76), Lasley, Ramsden, Vigurs, Ojamaa, Sutton. Subs: Neilsen, Carswell, Lawson, McHugh, Francis-Angol, Moore. Booked: O’Brien, McManus, Ojamaa.
Dundee United: Cierzniak; Paton, Souttar (Morris 77), Fojut, Townsend; Erskine, Armstrong, Rankin, Spittal (Mackay-Steven 59); Dow, Connolly (Ciftci 59). Subs: Szromnik, Dillon, Butcher, Telfer. Booked: Fojut, Paton.
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