In THE space of five months, Motherwell have made the unwanted transformation from the second-best team in Scottish football’s top tier to its second worst.
Partick Thistle - 3
Bannigan 16; Doolan 62; O’Donnell 82
Motherwell - 1
This was their seventh defeat in nine matches, a run which is developing into a rut from which manager Stuart McCall is finding it increasingly difficult to extricate them. Injuries have certainly played a part in their disappointing start to the campaign but the defensive deficiencies on view here owed little to inexperience and more to disorganisation.
Hard work is required on the training ground and McCall, who will be part of Gordon Strachan’s backroom staff for the forthcoming Euro 2016 qualifying matches against Georgia and Poland, wishes that he was on club duty instead next weekend.
“To be honest I wish there wasn’t an international break because you need to get that out of your system,” he said.
“We’ve a couple of games organised and we just have to be ready when we come back against Dundee. That’s now a massive match for us.
“Things aren’t going for us. We’re not playing superbly and confidence is low. You’ve got to stick in there. There’s not a lot between teams at this level, as with last year, and maybe last year we won them by the odd goal when things went for us or we scored at the right time.
“Now we’re not scoring when we should be. Of course it’s a worry when you are not winning games. I’ve been through it before as a player, coach and manager. There’s no hiding place. It wasn’t down to a lack of desire or effort.
“We’re at the bottom end of the table where we don’t want to be. For the last three-and-a-half years we’ve punched above our weight. I think certainly this time we’re punching below our weight.
“The only way we get it back is by winning games and hopefully it can snowball. There’s no magic formula – it’s hard work, dedication and organisation and individuals playing as well as they can. ”
Thistle had been the more adventurous of the two sides from the first whistle but it required a remarkable reflex save from Scott Fox to deny Motherwell the opener.
Henrik Ojamaa, one yard out, was convinced he had opened his account for the season when he got his head to Josh Law’s driven cross in the tenth minute, but the goalkeeper threw out his right hand and managed to touch the ball on to the crossbar.
Galvanised by that escape, the hosts tightened their grip on proceedings and took the lead with a well-crafted goal. Steven Lawless was the architect, releasing Stuart Bannigan with a slide-rule pass.
The midfielder still had plenty to do, especially with Mark O’Brien attempting to hold him back. Bannigan could have gone down for a penalty but virtue proved to be its own reward when his rising drive from 15 yards rendered Dan Twardzik a spectator.
While the visitors struggled to string three passes together, the Jags were more fluent and more confident on the ball. Several crosses were strafed across the six-yard box, needing only a finishing touch to provide the home side with that much-needed two-goal cushion.
Motherwell at least began the second half with a little more urgency and John Sutton, given precious little to work with during the opening 45 minutes, sent a diving header wide from Ojamaa’s speculative delivery.
However, Thistle widened the deficit with a superb second. Conrad Balatoni, James Craigen and Stephen O’Donnell combined to tee up Kris Doolan, who fired into the roof of the net from 12 yards.
Substitute Lionel Ainsworth pulled one back with a great goal which will go uncelebrated, a 35-yard strike into Fox’s top right-hand corner.
But Thistle ensured all three points with a breakaway goal, Nathan Eccleston sending O’Donnell clear to calmly stroke the ball home from 18 yards.