This weekend last year Motherwell beat Rangers to claim a place in the BetFred Cup final against Rangers. They followed that achievement by reaching the final of the Scottish Cup as well but supporters have short memories and manager Steven Robinson and his players were forced to endure a torrent of abuse at the end of this agricultural encounter.
The Lanarkshire club were the architects of their own downfall as, once again, dilatory defending contributed to their demise. On this occasion they inexplicably left Saints centre-back Jason Kerr – one of the tallest players on the park – unmarked when Liam Craig swung in a stoppage-time corner and the Scotland Under-21 gratefully headed home his first goal of the season from point-blank range.
“All the defenders had said beforehand that we had to have a clean sheet and we did that but to score an injury-time winner….there aren’t many better feelings in football,” he said. “I was surprised by the space I had. I’ll need to watch it again on TV because I don’t know who was supposed to be marking for me and it was weird because their ‘keeper didn’t come for it.”
Livingston, St Mirren and Dundee have already parted company with their managers this season but Motherwell’s Steven Robinson claimed to be unconcerned by the possibility after a run of six league fixtures which have yielded just the one point.
“I don’t make that decision,” he said. “We’ve got the club to two cup finals and we have a very low budget, if someone else makes that decision I can’t do anything about it.
“Listen, if you don’t win games the fans get disillusioned, obviously. We need to win a game, I’m not stupid. We’d a good home record last season and players are under-performing who were over-performing last season.
“We have to look at the personnel but what I want now is character – players who’ll stand up and be counted. I thought the fans were good - they stayed with the players and only voiced their frustration at the end, which is to be expected when you don’t win games.”
This was a slow burner but it ignited in the 13th minute when Tony Watt, released when David McMillan won his aerial duel with Peter Hartley, outsmarted Charles Dunne – returning after a three-month injury lay-off – before firing in a full-blooded drive which Trevor Carson spread himself to keep out.
Galvanised by that escape, the hosts created some openings of their own. Curtis Main attempted to chip Zander Clark from the edge of the penalty area but the goalkeeper got back to hook the ball out from underneath his crossbar.
Clark then trumped that save by pushing Andy Rose’s powerful header from David Turnbull’s free-kick on to the bar. This was not one for the purist but Motherwell’s no-frills approach was at least creating more openings.
David Turnbull, one of the few players on view prepared to put his foot on the ball, robbed Liam Craig inside his own half and his up and under left Main with a clear sight at goal; the striker fluffed his lines, however, failing to hit the target from 12 yards.
Saints had lost their four previous games prior to this welcome victory and manager Tommy Wright was delighted with the outcome.
“I didn’t need to challenge the players because I knew we would get a reaction and that they would step up,” he said. “We knew what kind of game it would be but we didn’t expect to have two head injuries, although one was an accident.
“McMillan has had to go off after what was not a great tackle but we knew we’d need to come here and battle and stand up to their physical presence and our three centre-halfs were outstanding.
“We started to pass the ball better and create opportunities in the second half. My goalkeeper hasn’t really had a save to make and it was cruel on Motherwell that we scored so late but we’ve had plenty of kicks in the teeth as well. Even if we’d drawn today it would have been a massive point for us but to take all three is tremendous.”