A Robert McHugh hat-trick and Gary Smith’s seventeenth of the campaign ensured ‘Well finished the season with all three points against St Johnstone this afternoon.
A 28-minute treble from McHugh in the first-half gave Gordon Young’s men a commanding lead at the interval. The second-half was more even but Smith stole the show with a brilliant individual effort that added the exclamation point to an impressive win.
It means Rangers will now need to win both of their remaining games against Falkirk and St Mirren to overtake the Steelmen for the runners-up spot.
Young stuck with the same starting eleven that overcame Hearts on Tuesday and ‘Well started the better side. However, it took just over nine minutes to create the first decent chance at goal.
A quick-thinking Jamie Pollock wasted no time with a free-kick on the edge of the box, rolling in Robert McHugh. The striker took a touch before firing a fierce low effort that forced Saints keeper Zander Clark into a superb save from point-blank range.
However, just three minutes later, the same player wouldn’t be denied when he opened the scoring in spectacular style. Ross McKinnon was fouled on the edge of the area presenting ‘Well with a chance at goal. Pollock was again hovering over it, but it was McHugh who took the free-kick, curling a beautiful effort around the wall and in off the inside of the post with Clark at full-stretch.
Saints were creating little, if anything, in the way of a chances; only a trickling low shot at Ross Hyslop gave the young ‘keeper a touch of the ball in the first twenty minutes.
Down the other end though, Motherwell were creating problems and it was almost two when Pollock’s corner found Meechan at the back post, but the midfielder’s blistering low effort was somehow blocked for a corner by one of the melee of St Johnstone defenders inside the eighteen-yard-box.
The resulting kick from the quadrant again wasn’t cleared allowing Dan Parker to tee up McHugh who drilled a twenty-yard effort off the top of the bar.
It was turning into a one-sided affair and Clark, in the visitor’s goal, was keeping things respectable. On the half-hour, he made two fantastic saves in quick succession to deny Captain Peter Innes and full-back McKinnon.
Both players tried their luck from distance, Innes’ shot turned round the post and McKinnon’s dipping drive somehow turned over the bar as ‘Well turned the screw.
The pressure finally paid off as McHugh scored a quick fire double to not only win the game, but secure his hat-trick. The first, after 37 minutes, was a predator’s finish when the Scotland U19’s hitman was well-placed to prod home after a bit of a stramash inside the penalty area. The second, three minutes later, was another terrific goal. Picking up from a neat Meechan pass, he side-stepped the last defender before coolly slotting it past Clark for a 28-minute-treble.
Incredibly, he (McHugh) could’ve added his, and Motherwell’s, fourth just before half-time when he finished a fantastic sweeping move but the shot was again saved by Clark and Saints got in at half-time with the scoring just at three.
Bizarrely similar to Tuesday’s win at Hearts, the second half, compared to the first at least, was a bit of a non-event. Saints started the half with their first and only real effort at goal when Stephen Reynolds hit a low shot that was fairly easy for a well-positioned Hyslop to gather.
The only other thing of note in the second forty-five was Gary Smith’s goal on the hour mark which was arguably the best bit of play of the match.
The big striker picked up on the right flank and, hugging the by-line, danced round two challenges before somehow tucking it past Clark from the tightest of angles.
A brilliant individual strike from the former Queens Park man, and probably the pick of the seventeen he has netted for the Steelmen this term.
Young threw on three late subs with Sloan, Brown and McDonald all getting a run, but there wasn’t any change to the score with the game finishing 4-0.
It represents the final game of the 2009/2010 season for the Under 19’s and, sadly, the end of the road for a few in the ‘Well team. The likes of Ross Hyslop and Dan Parker will leave the club next Sunday and go with the best wishes of everyone at Fir Park.
Motherwell: Hyslop, Halsman (Sloan – 66mins), Quinn, Parker (Brown – 73mins), McKinnon, Meechan, Innes, McHugh, Smith, J.Pollock, Lawless (McDonald – 78mins)
Subs Not Used: Muir, G.Pollock