SCOTLAND'S record in early-season European ties shows no sign of improving on recent depressing results. Motherwell suffered an embarrassing reversal at the hands of Welsh part-timers, and the architect of their downfall was Llanelli's 42-year-old player-manager, Andy Legg.
His long throw led to the corner from which Llanelli defender Stuart Jones scored the winning goal. Everything will depend on next week's return leg in Wales as Motherwell seek to avoid a Europa League exit at the earliest possible juncture.
Motherwell had been well warned of Legg's expertise at throw-ins. New manager Jim Gannon faced Legg many times in England's lower leagues, but a young Motherwell team did not heed his words of advice. The Fir Park side were undone at the first opportunity Legg had to wreak havoc with his hands.
Stoke City's Rory Delap may currently get all the media attention, but there was a time when Legg was the finest hurler of a football in the land. Indeed, Legg's ability is still every bit as impressive, particularly given his veteran status. The flamboyant player-manager was the subject of some ridicule from the Motherwell fans in the opening half. But he had the last laugh.
Although it was his left foot which ultimately helped do the damage, the corner which Legg delivered to great effect was won after his long throw caused consternation in the Motherwell box. Legg trotted down the touchline to take the set-piece.
He proved every bit as adept at delivering the ball from the ground. His corner was swung in to the far post and Jones beat marker Stephen Craigan to head powerfully into the net.
Motherwell had well over an hour in which to reply, but failed. They looked more ill-at-ease in Airdrie than Llanelli did, with the game having been switched to the Shyberry Excelsior due to the repair work being done on the Fir Park pitch.
"It's not just my best result as manager here, it's the club's best ever result," said Legg, after his players had taken a bow. Gannon could only squirm when asked if a Scottish team should ever lose a competitive game at 'home' against a part-time team from Wales. "Sometimes these things happen in one-off games," he said. "Fortunately it's a two-legged tie. I know it's a famous victory for them, but it is far from done and dusted."
Neither team had begun particularly purposefully on a balmy night in Lanarkshire. If that was not surreal enough, Motherwell keeper Michael Fraser took to the field wearing an all-pink strip. It was brave choice of outfit against a Welsh team who could not be described as shrinking violets.
Jones picked up a booking in the first couple of minutes for a hefty challenge on Steven McGarry. Midfielder Andrew Mumford had the look of John Clark, in the days when the former Dundee United player was patrolling the middle of the park for Gala Fairydean. Motherwell opponents simply bounced off a player who looked like he had enjoyed a good close season.
Motherwell rallied in the second half, with McGarry's header flashing across the face of the goal. Impressive half-time substitute Paul Slane nearly levelled the scores in injury-time, but his drive was brilliantly tipped past the post by Ashley Morris. It always looked a struggle for a home side shorn of nine members of last season's first-team squad, though the Welsh team deserved the applause which was sportingly offered up by the Motherwell fans at the end. Only after jeers had been aimed at their own side.
Motherwell: Fraser, Saunders, Craigan, Reynolds, Hammell, O'Brien (McHugh 74), Lasley (Slane 46), Forbes, McGarry, Sutton, Murphy. Subs Not Used: Kosiorowski, Darren Smith, Fitzpatrick, Hutchinson, Page.
Llanelli: Ashley Morris, Legg (Warlow 51), Howard, Stuart Jones, Jarman (Thomas 16), Phillips, Mumford, Corbisiero, Venables, Griffiths, Craig Jones (Follows 65). Subs Not Used: Craig Morris, Jenkins, Moses, John. Booked: Stuart Jones, Griffiths, Howard. Att: 4,307. Ref: T Nieminen (Finland).