VICTORY in his first match as manager may not have been a particularly convincing one for Stephen Craigan, but the most important thing for Motherwell’s interim boss and players was to earn a morale-boosting victory at the end of a week which saw previous incumbent Ian Baraclough sacked after less than ten months in the job.
Since the dismissal, everyone involved in Motherwell expressed their regret that such a conclusion had to be reached, with owner Les Hutchison even going as far as to say the players should “hang their heads” in shame. While those on the park obviously have to take their share of responsibility, there was no doubt Motherwell were much improved on recent weeks, even though they were desperately holding on at the end after David Amoo’s header cut into the lead established by a Frederic Frans’ own goal and Scott McDonald strike.
“I can only remember the last five minutes,” said Craigan when asked for his opinion on the game. “Honestly, the first minute feels like yesterday. I can only remember Stephen McManus having a lot of headers, Kieran Kennedy having a lot of headers. Someone said to me we had a couple of chances in the first half. I said ‘did we?’”
They did. Having been chastised for their part in Baraclough’s downfall, Motherwell started the game with a sense of purpose and could have been ahead on six minutes. Lionel Ainsworth found Marvin Johnson with a through ball into the area and the midfielder’s low shot was blocked by Tomas Cerny.
Ainsworth was one of five changes to the side which exited the League Cup at the hands of Morton, the loss which prompted Baraclough’s sacking, and it was the midfielder who was responsible for Motherwell opening the scoring. After running into the area he skipped by a challenge from Callum Booth before firing the ball across goal. In trying to clear the effort, Thistle centre back Frans was only able to slice the ball high into his own net.
Instead of the floodgates opening, Thistle played their way into the match and could have been level five minutes after conceding. Following Motherwell’s failure to clear a corner, Frans touched off for Steven Lawless who drove the ball through a ruck of bodies and off the base of the post.
Motherwell took to the second half with a renewed tempo and could have netted within the first three minutes when Ainsworth embarked on a run which saw him charge into the centre of the field, change direction, skip over a sliding Dan Seaborne challenge and force Cerny into pushing his shot from 12 yards around the post.
When the capricious winger is on form he is a proven match-winner, and it was his sublime cross from the right which allowed McDonald to double the advantage. The Australian’s header was initially saved by Cerny, but he stayed calm to lift the rebound over the Thistle keeper.
The win seemed inevitable at that point, but Thistle kept piling men forward and got their reward when substitute Amoo helped the ball into the back of the net after Seaborne had risen highest to power a set-piece towards goal.
With confidence clearly fragile at Fir Park, the hosts then struggled to get out their own half for the rest of the contest and could have thrown away three points when young striker Kevin Nisbet was allowed to unleash a stinging effort from the edge of the area that clipped the outside of the post.