“Well are going down,” chanted the jubilant Hamilton support as their team finally ended a 13-game run without victory in an enthralling Lanarkshire derby. They may have been a tad premature in bidding their local rivals farewell to the Premiership, but Motherwell are certainly in dire straits.
Scorers: Scotland (21), Crawford (52)
Last night’s defeat, their second in successive games and their fourth in five derbies this season, left them six points adrift of rampant Ross County in the battle to avoid second-bottom spot. With just four games left to play, it looks likely that the Lanarkshire side will have to win a two-legged play-off against Rangers, Hibernian or Queen of the South in order to extend their 30-year stay in Scotland’s top flight.
Hamilton have no such worries. This win, their first since former manager Alex Neil departed for Norwich City in early January, mathematically secured their safety in the Premiership, albeit there was little danger of them being sucked into the danger zone even if they had lost. The old sparkle that illuminated the first half of the Premiership season was back as goals by Jason Scotland and Ali Crawford in each half gave the embattled Martin Canning his first triumph as manager. For all that Motherwell had their fair share of chances and hit the bar twice in the first half, there was little doubt that Accies were the more sure-footed side.
From the moment Grant Gillespie scooped a fifth-minute shot just wide after the visitors were easily carved open, it was clear the hosts were in the mood. Motherwell almost went ahead with their first attempt after ten minutes but Lionel Ainsworth’s shot from the edge of the box, which took a deflection off Louis Longridge, was parried out by Michael McGovern.
At the other end, Crawford’s shot from 25 yards out was deflected behind for a corner by Motherwell centre-back Stephen McManus. The hosts were not to be denied for long, however. The breakthrough came in the 21st minute when Crawford, from a central position midway inside the opposition half, slipped a pass through to Scotland, who despatched a low shot beyond George Long from the edge of the box.
Motherwell almost responded three minutes later when Lee Erwin found himself in the clear after team-mate Scott McDonald and Hamilton defender Mikey Devlin collided while challenging for a long ball just outside the box, but the young forward rasped an angled half-volley against the crossbar from
12 yards out.
Accies were looking the more dangerous side, however, and Crawford had another strike from distance diverted behind by McManus. From the resulting corner, taken by Crawford, Devlin, seven yards out, arced a header against the underside of the bar.
The woodwork was rattled for a third time in 31 minutes when Motherwell winger Marvin Johnson cut in from the left and rasped a right-footed shot from 12 yards out against the crossbar.
Accies then raced up the park and almost doubled their advantage when Darian MacKinnon fired in a powerful 20-yard strike, parried by Long.
Motherwell spurned a golden opportunity to equalise in the 43rd minute when McDonald’s pass put Erwin clean through on goal, but the forward was brilliantly denied by McGovern. Ainsworth then drilled a low shot wide from the edge of the box in first-half stoppage time as the visitors’ frustration continued to grow.
Hamilton started the second half on the front foot and MacKinnon blazed a half volley high over a minute after Scotland had forced his way into the box and cut the ball back from the left.
The same player then tested Long with a strike from 25 yards out which the Motherwell keeper held at the second attempt.
Hamilton doubled their advantage in the 52nd minute when Imrie slipped a pass into the path of Crawford, who, bursting into the box, drilled a shot beyond Long.
Accies were rampant and MacKinnon pinged another effort just beyond the far post after being teed up on the edge of the box by Darren Lyon.
Motherwell manager Ian Baraclough, sensing his team’s chances of avoiding the play-off fizzling out, introduced promising young winger Dominic Thomas in place of Johnson in the 59th minute. It did little to alter the flow of the game, however, as Well, for all their possession, toiled to create anything of note. When another substitute, John Sutton, glanced an inswinging Ainsworth free kick just wide in the 83rd minute, the Motherwell fans who had been packed into the stand behind that goal started heading, en masse, for the exits. Those who remained only had their exasperation levels increased when they saw Erwin shoot straight at Long after going one-on-one with the keeper three minutes from time. Five more weeks of mental torment await the Fir Park faithful.