Aberdeen 0-1 Motherwell: Well halt Dons’ climb

Barry Robson, right, is closed down by Motherwell's Keith Lasley. Picture: SNS
Barry Robson, right, is closed down by Motherwell's Keith Lasley. Picture: SNS
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Lionel Ainsworth’s third goal on loan at Motherwell extended the Fir Park club’s unbeaten run at Pittodrie to five years and, more importantly, proved that they have put an awkward autumn behind them.

Scorers: Motherwell - Ainsworth (49)

Bookings: Aberdeen - Anderson, Hayes; Motherwell - Huchinson, Moore, Lawson

Losing to neighbouring minnows Albion Rovers in the Scottish Cup and then being thrashed at home by Celtic even had some hard-hearted people questioning Stuart McCall’s future recently.

The lack of validity about that talk is underlined by a quick look at the league table this morning: yesterday’s win moves them back into second place above the more lauded Aberdeen and Dundee United.

It has all been achieved despite McCall having to substantially rebuild the side since they beat the same opponents 4-1 at Fir Park during the festive programme last year.

Six of the starting line-up from that day are no longer Motherwell employees and only their respective agents would claim that the replacements are better players than the departed.

What can never be doubted is the spirit and resilience of the current squad. Amazingly, this was their first win against any of their top-six rivals this season.

In fact McCall’s selection problems are so acute that Dundee’s on-loan goalkeeper Dan Twardzik played again, while Fraser Kerr replaced injured former Celtic and Scotland defender Stephen McManus.

It was Twardzik who was largely responsible for making sure Motherwell at least got to the interval on level terms, as Aberdeen played with much more fluidity and movement.

That was despite the fact Jonny Hayes was pressed into action at left-back given McInnes’s injury problems and he certainly impressed in the role.

Much less noteworthy, though, was his diving header in 14 minutes after good work down the right by Ryan Jack and Niall McGinn.

The latter left Kerr in a spin before driving over a delicious cross that left Hayes with a free header six yards out that he contrived to steer wide of the target.

To be fair to Motherwell, they worked really hard to minimise any further close-range chances before the interval, but McGinn remains a handful regardless of the range. The Northern Ireland international forced Twardzik into an impressive diving save in 27 minutes but there was little he could do but watch shortly afterwards.

Peter Pawlett was needlessly fouled 25 yards from goal and McGinn curled the ball round the wall at pace only for a relieved Twardzik, who was rooted to the spot, to see the effort go just wide of his left-hand upright.

The opening period was a bit of a duel between them with Motherwell’s stand-in winning a key contest in first-half stoppage time.

Willo Flood slid a perfect pass into the path of McGinn, who had made an intelligent run in to the inside-left channel while being tracked. At least Twardzik was more alert than the defenders in front of him and dashed out to save at the feet of the former Celtic winger.

The value of that save was reinforced within two minutes of the restart as Aberdeen paid the price for over-committing players forward in search of a breakthrough.

Joe Shaughnessy’s long throw-in was cleared by Steven Hammell and reached Henri Anier on the halfway line. In turn, Anier sped forward with alacrity. For once the Dons defence was stretched to breaking point as the Viking Stavanger loanee showed the presence of mind to pick out the supporting run of Ainsworth, who beat Jamie Langfield from 12 yards.

That only served to intensify the home side’s efforts as a team who had won twice at Fir Park this season searched in vain for a first home win against these opponents since 2008.

The problem was their efforts became more and more frantic and less and less threatening as the match went on as Motherwell defended as though their lives depended on it.

McGinn did find the side net with a late free-kick and Pawlett missed two opportunities to level things as the pressure intensified.

The first was a poor miss by the midfielder, who has been in decent goalscoring form this season. He got into a good position only to sky the ball over the bar from 12 yards.

That was after 83 minutes and shortly afterwards his movement allowed the Scotland Under-21 player to get on the end of a Hayes cross but his glancing header flew wide.

Motherwell occasionally threatened on the counterattack but overall it was the quality of their defensive play that denied Aberdeen the chance of a fourth straight league win for the first time in five years.

Aberdeen: Langfield, Shaughnessy (Magennis 70), Anderson, Hector, Jack, Robson (Murray 85), Flood, Pawlett, Hayes, Vernon (Zola 86), McGinn. Subs not used: Smith, Wylde, Low, Weaver.

Motherwell: Twardzik, Kerr, Hutchinson, Ramsden, Hammell, Ainsworth (Francis-Angol 71), Carswell, Lasley, Lawson, Sutton, Anier (Moore 66). Subs not used: McFadden, Vigurs, Nielsen, Cummins, McHugh.