Motherwell 0 Sligo Rovers 1: Grim Euro defeat for hosts compounded by bottle incident
Although they sit only fifth in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division, there was always the fear that Sligo Rovers would be far enough ahead in terms of match fitness to present Motherwell with a stiff challenge.
And so it proved in what has become a familiar story for Scottish clubs in Europe. A mistake by Bevis Mugabi allowed former Hearts striker Aidan Keena to score what turned out to be the winner with a fine lob. Motherwell were treated to a bracing welcome back by the home fans, who booed their team off at half-time.
They were howled off at the end for good measure after the failure to rectify the situation. Motherwell now face a considerable task at the Showgrounds next week.
There was some embarrassment heaped in with the ignominy too – referee Kari Hovdanum from the Faroe Isles alerted police to a bottle that had been thrown from the John Hunter Stand. A Tannoy announcement was made to stress to fans that the game was in danger of being stopped if such behaviour continued.
The home supporters had turned out in very healthy numbers for Motherwell’s return to Europe while a very decent away following had made the journey from Sligo – and they will be glad they did. This was a historic night in their club's history. Almost 500 of them were still singing long after the final whistle.
Motherwell’s lack of preparation was brutally exposed on a pristine hybrid playing surface that was laid earlier this summer. Not only is the pitch new but, according to Motherwell chief executive Alan Burrows, the famous slope has been reduced “by half”. Fifty per cent too much one might suggest.
Bring back the slope was the cry at Fir Park as the under cooked home team taking part in their first competitive game of the season toiled in the opening half against a team who are 23 league matches into theirs. The contrast in physical conditioning was always likely to be telling but Rovers exhibited a better touch – again, perhaps understandably.
This superior finesse was certainly in evidence at the opener, expertly converted by Keena. The Irishman experienced up and down fortunes in Scotland, where he also played for Falkirk as well as Queen’s Park and Dunfermline on loan. This was most definitely an up.
Substitute Max Mata should have given Rovers an even more healthy lead to take back to Ireland.
He found himself straight through with ten minutes left but delayed his shot too long. The same player had a later header cleared off the line by Mugabi, with the visiting players claiming vehemently for handball.
The hosts might well have conceded in the opening minute. William Fitzgerald should have done better than clip the ball wide when a cross from the right from Karl O’Sullivan found him in the middle.
A misjudged backpass after 19 minutes allowed Kevin van Veen the chance to break clear but Josh Morris could not capitalise after the Dutch striker squared the ball to him.
Motherwell then coughed up a chance for the visitors through similarly slack play.
After 27 minutes Mugabi sought to play a cute back header to his ‘keeper but it was lazily executed and Keena was onto it. He took full advantage of Liam Kelly being stranded in no-man’s land and deftly lifted the ball over the ‘keeper from just inside the box.
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