IN THE immediate aftermath of this game’s only goal, the Motherwell PA described the successful penalty kick as a “late Christmas present” from scorer John Sutton. The lanky striker may be a little on the slim side to play the role of Santa, but just like when parents tell a child their new favourite toy came courtesy of a fat man in a red suit, the real credit lies elsewhere.
Scorer: Motherwell - Sutton 14
Stuart Bannigan gifted Motherwell that opportunity after hauling down Lionel Ainsworth just inside the penalty area. Motherwell had struggled prior to that point, and it would prove to be the game’s defining moment.
“The lads think it was outside the area, or right on the edge, when the first contact was made, but I do think it was a foul,” admitted Thistle boss Alan Archibald. “We had a couple where it’s a foul outside the box, but because it’s inside the box we don’t get them. Hopefully these decisions will even themselves out.”
Thistle had started the brighter, controlling possession and seeing a couple of promising attacks break down at the final ball.
Then Bannigan tugged on Ainsworth’s arm, Sutton dispatched the penalty and suddenly Motherwell were a different team. Thistle couldn’t mount any attack of their own and were lucky to survive until the interval at just a goal down.
They almost gift-wrapped another four minutes after the penalty. Conrad Balatoni was caught in possession by Sutton and the striker’s deflected effort just curled wide of the far post.
From there the hosts looked to use Ainsworth’s pace to exploit Bannigan. Twice in the space of five minutes the makeshift left-back was beaten down the outside, with Ainsworth’s deliveries into the six yard area denied by last ditch clearances on both occasions.
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The warning was enough to convince Archibald to change things around. Christie Elliot was moved to left-back, Bannigan went into the centre and suddenly Motherwell didn’t look so dangerous. With Bannigan pulling the strings in his rightful role, the second half, possession-wise, belonged to the visitors.
“I don’t like clichés, but that was a game of two halves,” observed Ian Baraclough, on his first Fir Park game as Motherwell manager.
“I’ve told the lads that they need to be doing more of what they did in the first half and not just look to see the game out. Two wins from two games isn’t bad, though. It certainly gives us something to build on.”
Despite having a lot of possession, Thistle still struggled to carve out opportunities in front of goal. However, they’ll feel unlucky not to have been given one of their two penalty claims in the second half.
First Ryan Stevenson was tugged back by Keith Lasley just inside the area, then Steven Lawless felt he was nudged off the ball by Steven Hammell as he looked to control a high pass in the centre of the box. On both occasions referee Brian Colvin was unmoved by their claims.
With four minutes left Thistle finally got their chance. Kris Doolan peeled off the defence and looked likely to dispatch the ball into the net, only to be denied twice in as many seconds by lunging, last-ditch blocks by Stephen McManus and Fraser Kerr.
Motherwell went right up the other end with substitute Lee Erwin being put through on goal. The striker bore down on the keeper and looked certain to spare his side from some injury-time anxiety, but instead rolled his side-footed effort wide of the post.
Motherwell: Twardzik; Reid, McManus, O’Brien (Kerr 78), Hammell; Ramsden, Lasley; Ainsworth, Law, Ojamaa; Sutton (Erwin 74). Subs not used: Nielsen, Erwin, Thomas, Cadden, Ferguson, MacLean.
Partick Thistle: Gallacher; O’Donnell, Seaborne, Balatoni, Bannigan; Fraser (Eccleston 81), Osman; Elliot, Craigen (Lawless 54), Higginbotham; Stevenson (Doolan 67). Subs not used: Fox, Wilson, Lindsay, McDaid.
Referee: Brian Colvin. Attendance: 5,236
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