A RESULT that surely turns perceptions of these two sides’ season to date on their heads.
Scorers: Motherwell – McDonald (6) Moult (32) Pearson (90); Dundee – Harkins (68)
It may have been an uncomfortable campaign so far for Motherwell, culminating in the replacement of Ian Barraclough by Mark McGhee at the helm, while Dundee were previously looking a decent bet for a residence in the top six.
However this victory for the Steelmen means that the pair now find themselves cheek by jowl in the table and potentially heading in very different directions.
It was just about the right scoreline although it arrived almost by default. Motherwell were so superior in the opening 45 minutes that they could have been completely out of sight rather than just two up thanks to goals by Scott McDonald and Lewis Moult. It left the door tantalisingly ajar for the visitors and in near time-honoured fashion having pulled one back through substitute Gary Harkins they came close on a few occasions to wresting an unlikely point. It was left to Stephen Pearson to slam it shut on them by scoring a third for the Lanarkshire side and to draw the visitors right into the cluster of clubs fretting away about that relegation play-off place.
“It was a bit tricky at times in the second half,” acknowledged McGhee, “but overall it was a really pleasing performance. I was delighted when we got that two-goal lead because we knew we would probably need to score more than once to beat them. I was really pleased too with the performance of young Ben Hall at centre-half – it was a great debut and I’m delighted for him.”
It took only six minutes for his side to get the upper hand. Both the timing and manner of the opening goal set the tone for much of what was ultimately to prove a decisive first half. Some pretty unconvincing defending by Dundee and alertness on the ball by the hosts saw Pearson pick up a loose ball about 30 yards out and thread a through ball to McDonald who rolled back the years with a finish that was typical of the Australian at his peak.
Tightly knitted across the park and working their socks off for each other, McGhee’s men not only had the breakthrough but an altogether more compelling look about their game. The visitors made little headway against a solid looking Motherwell rearguard with Hall playing with impressive authority alongside Stephen Mannus. At the other end Moult was desperately unlucky to see a header bounce off the post and in the follow up Scott Bain performed heroics in tipping Keith Lasley’s fierce drive over the bar.
However it proved to be a temporary reprieve as yet more woeful marking by the Dundee defence saw Moult notch up his ninth and probably simplest goal of the campaign with a close-range header from a corner by Josh Law.
It was nothing short of abject by Dundee up to the break as Paul Hartley himself admitted. “We didn’t start the game well enough, didn’t defend and the goals we gave away were poor. Yet again we’ve given ourselves a mountain to climb.” He went for broke and threw on all three substitutes fairly promptly after the interval. It helped galvanise their spirit, all the more so when one of them – Harkins – turned in a lay-off after a fine run by Kane Hemmings.
Hemmings should have done better than skew the ball skywards when presented with a decent opening and there was plenty of action in and around Connor Ripley’s box.
Ultimately though Dundee were once again made to pay a heavy price as the Steelmen broke down the right flank and added a third when Pearson volleyed home a cross to wrap up the three points.