MOTHERWELL manager Stuart McCall had warned that matches between these two sides tend to be tight affairs and so it proved at Fir Park yesterday, the Steelmen prevailing over ten-man Saints by one goal.
It was scored after 64 minutes by debutant Lee Erwin, and a home victory was made more or less certain ten minutes later when Jim
Goodwin was sent off for a second yellow-card offence.
Referee Calum Murray can forget any Christmas cards from Paisley as he both dismissed Goodwin even though he did not see the second offence, and turned down Saints’ strong penalty claim for what appeared to be a handball late on.
The story of the first half was a tale of early-season discovery as players went about the business of finding or remembering strengths and weaknesses in colleagues, old and new – hence the number of aimless passes. Motherwell gave Erwin a belated start and introduced new signing Josh Law, while St Mirren’s more radical changes saw new manager Tommy Craig put in loan signing Ellis Plummer, while his replacement for missing club captain, the injured Steve Thompson, was debutant James Marwood, who did well, as did the returned Jeroen Tesselar.
When Motherwell and their visitors put together some moves, the football was engrossing, but rarely too exciting. St Mirren manager Tommy Craig said afterwards that he wants people to like watching his team and if he was going to ask his players to perform, he would ask them “to do the same again”.
St Mirren did indeed dominate a lively start, though failed to create absolutely clear-cut chances, and a pattern soon emerged of Motherwell putting up a stout barricade against a side who had difficulty picking the final defensive lock in front of goal – that problem was to be the key to the result of the match.
Had Saints’ James Marwood taken either of two early half-chances – Dan Twardzik dealt with them easily – or connected better with the excellent Gregg Wylde’s cross after 15 minutes, the outcome might well have been different.
As move after move by the visitors broke down with chances scorned, Motherwell emerged from behind their shields and a sign of their first period of pressure came after 23 minutes when Jim Goodwin – who else? – saw their first yellow card of the season for scything down Erwin.
Marian Kello was eventually called into action, saving from new boy Josh Law, while Marwood again failed with a chance, his weak shot held by Dan Twardzik.
Just as they had in the first half, St Mirren started the better but could not take advantage of their stranglehold on possession, though it took all of Twardzik’s skills to keep out Wylde who looked certain to score after breaking free into the home box. The goalkeeper then foiled Callum Ball, the visitors’ other new recruit, who looked a tad anxious in front of goal.
Motherwell did not crack under the pressure, and then began to make some useful forays of their own, from one of which they scored.
Lionel Ainsworth found enough space 20 yards out to send in a fierce shot that Kello did well to parry away, only for Erwin, the 20-year-old local lad with the hitherto stop-start career, to pounce first and cleverly direct the ball home.
St Mirren immediately sought an equaliser, Jason Naismith seeing Twardzik save his fine shot, before Ball smacked another chance high over the bar.
The sending-off ensued after 73 minutes, player-coach Goodwin being shown a second yellow apparently for elbowing John Sutton in the back which one of the assistant referees, Frank Connor, and not Mr Murray, spotted. After the match, manager Craig, like the vast majority of spectators, was still mystified about what happened, but that is Goodwin’s fourth red card in three years plus nearly a half-century of yellows in that period.
St Mirren’s task now became almost impossible. Two shots by substitute Ross Caldwell were saved and a blatant Keith Lasley handball was presumably judged accidental by the referee. Marc McAusland got himself booked for throwing the ball away in injury time. It amply demonstrated both the visitors’ frustrations, and their follies.
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall was pleased with the result if not the performance, and pledged improvement.
“We had a lot of quality missing today,” said McCall. “We have not replaced the players we are missing from last season. But I am delighted with the players’ attitude.”
So he should be. His men dug in and got the result, and that’s the lesson St Mirren must learn.