Scorers: Motherwell - Sutton (55), Anier (88)
Bookings: Kilmarnock - Pascali, Gardyne; Motherwell - Lawson, Vigurs
Motherwell moved into third place with this victory and could have done their goal difference a real favour if they hadn’t passed up a hatful of chances.
For Johnston, though, the highs of his debut season in management with Queen of the South must seem a long way away now. The old adage has it that one learns more from adversity than success, in which case his tenure at Rugby Park is providing him with one hell of an education.
“The most frustrating thing is that teams don’t have to work hard to score against us,” he said. “I don’t think that our overall performance merited a 2-0 defeat, but you
cannot defend like that and expect not to concede goals.
“How many times can I come in and say the same thing?
“We’ve been having these problems since I came in and we need to sort it out. There were loads of mistakes at their first goal, which ended with three or four of our players watching John Sutton, on his own, head them in front. And we were just bullied at their second.”
The visitors started as they meant to go on, spurning a glorious opportunity to take the lead in the sixth minute when Craig Moore, making his first start, dispossessed Mark O’Hara as he prevaricated over a clearance.
With Craig Samson left unprotected, a goal seemed inevitable but the striker fluffed his lines and fired wide.
The teenager went on to spurn two even better opportunities in the next 15 minutes, first failing to hit the target from eight yards after a Sutton shot ricocheted into his path and then, after O’Hara slipped while attempting to cut out Fraser Kerr’s pass, he was again left with only the goalkeeper to beat but his effort lacked conviction and drifted wide of Samson’s left-hand post.
Kris Boyd passed up his side’s best chance of the opening 45 minutes when he took too long to pull the trigger after being played in by Johnston.
Much to McCall’s chagrin, profligacy prevailed at the other end. Fraser Kerr’s cross picked out the unmarked John Sutton, but his header from six yards, under no pressure, lacked direction and enabled Samson to turn it over.
James McFadden had barely featured during the first half and did not reappear for the second, replaced by Lionel Ainsworth. The winger maintained the previous pattern by shooting wide after Moore had carved out a clear-cut opening.
Kilmarnock’s rearguard had been abject throughout and they were AWOL once again when Iain Vigurs whipped in a cross from the left and Sutton, untroubled by markers, stooped to head home from point-blank range.
Killie redoubled their efforts and Gunnar Neilsen made a superb save, diving to his right to turn away a piledriver from Michael Gardyne, while Kris Boyd headed a Gardyne cross over from inside the six-yard box.
Motherwell secured all three points in the dying seconds when substitute Henri Anier collected a pass from Keith Lasley and eluded the hapless O’Hara before beating Samson at his near post.
Fir Park manager Stuart McCall admitted that he feared the worst when his players failed to capitalise on their early superiority.
“Sometimes, when you miss chances like that, it comes back to haunt you, but, thankfully, that wasn’t the case here,” he said.
“We were disappointed not to be ahead at half-time and young Craig could have had a few today, but he deserved to be in the team.”