Kilmarnock 1 Bryson 89 Motherwell 0
THIS was another fine day for Kilmarnock when it had looked as if they might have to settle for a draw. Motherwell were forced to play the last half-hour of the match with 10 men after Paul Quinn's sending off for a last-ditch tackle on David Fernandez. A goalless draw still seemed on the cards until Craig Bryson popped up moments from the end to spark celebrations among the home fans.
"It was a massive game to win," said Kilmarnock manager Jim Jefferies.
"Wins like that give us more confidence. The only way we could stay in third place was if we'd win and that's what we did. We persevered and fortunately it fell for us."
Kilmarnock sat several places above Motherwell in the table but such is the tight nature of the division at present that only three points separated the two teams. James Fowler was now free from suspension but could only make the Kilmarnock bench as manager Jim Jefferies looked to follow up the win over Hearts at Tynecastle a fortnight ago. Stephen Craigan of Motherwell had not recovered enough from injury to take his place in the visitors' line-up.
The match began brightly as the home side's Conor Sammon raced at the Motherwell defence and squeezed in the shot only for Graeme Smith to make the save. Chris Porter put the ball in the Kilmarnock net soon afterwards but was caught in an offside position when team-mate David Clarkson released his excellent through-ball. Kilmarnock soon lost the services of Simon Ford with Fowler replacing him. Bryson burst into the Motherwell box and blasted a drive at Smith who was able to get down and block. The rebound landed at the feet of Danny Invincibile whose low shot was also saved by the Motherwell keeper.
Motherwell enjoyed a spell of pressure and John Sutton's corner kick was headed wide by Steven McGarry. Half-an-hour into this game though and chances were at a premium. Jamie Murphy crossed into the Kilmarnock penalty area but Sutton was too much beneath the ball and he could only nod over the crossbar. Down at the other end, Sammon and Smith leapt together with the Kilmarnock striker outstripping the keeper, the ball bouncing in the goalmouth and the Motherwell defence clearing the danger. There were many aerial battles and not much great groundwork. The game was letting itself down a bit. Mehdi Taouil took a dive in the Motherwell box and referee Alan Muir ignored him.
Murphy managed a snapshot from a tight angle and it was touched away for a corner by Alan Combe. Invincibile and Clarkson clashed and once the referee had figured out the guilty parties he booked them both.
Half-time arrived with no breakthrough. Perhaps it would get better after the interval. You hoped so.
There was another double booking when Frazer Wright barged Smith as he tried to gather the ball safely. Smith did not like it and reacted to the initial challenge. Both of them ended up in the referee's book.
But players losing control of the ball rather than their tempers was doing most damage to a scrappy match. Someone really needed to get their act together for the sake of a contest.
Suddenly it was a lop-sided contest. Fernandez had the edge on the away defence and was contemplating shooting when Quinn cut him down. The red card was out quickly and Motherwell were a man down. Moments later the Motherwell manager Mark McGhee made a switch. Sutton was removed and Bob Malcolm added to the Motherwell midfield. Kilmarnock's tails were now up and they went at their opponents with renewed purpose. The advantage was theirs but would it amount – in keeping with the match so far – to nothing?
Fernandez and Taouil buzzed about and threatened to cause bother on the edge of the Motherwell box.
Bryson's low centre was cut out by Smith when the Kilmarnock man's delivery should maybe have got closer to Sammon who was replaced by Donovan Simmonds as Jefferies shuffled his pack.
There soon followed another switch, with Invincibile making way for Iain Flannigan. Kilmarnock's creative players were getting on the ball but even they were misplacing their passes. Just after being announced man of the match, Taouil, with time and space, put the ball out for a throw-in. You wouldn't really think Kilmarnock had a man advantage. But then they did make it count.
Jamie Hammill's initial deflected shot was turned in from close-range by Bryson. Without dazzling, Kilmarnock's persistence had paid off and they maintain their excellent start to the season. Motherwell came mighty close to taking something but it was not to be.
MAN OF THE MATCH
There was no-one head and shoulders above the rest but Craig Bryson came close in the first-half and was in the right place at the end to convert Kilmarnock's one-man advantage into the winning goal.
Kilmarnock's present home record stands at one defeat in 10 games at Rugby Park. If they can keep up that kind of ratio then they really will do well this season.
Kilmarnock held third spot in the league. Motherwell could match them on points with a victory. The Motherwell fans hardly had to travel the length of the country to get to Rugby Park. And the crowd for this SPL game? Just 5,113.