Goals in either half from Francis Jeffers and Jamie Murphy gave Motherwell a precious three points against 10-man Aberdeen.
The Steelmen were excellent throughout, particularly the first half, and fully merited the 2-1 win.
Aberdeen went ahead when Sone Aluko smashed home inside the opening few minutes but the Steelmen fought back, showing terrific heart, determination and skill and eventually drew level thanks to a fantastic looping header from Francis Jeffers.
Motherwell continued to flourish but weren’t able to grab that decisive second. Dons captain Paul Hartley then got himself sent off for a kick out at Keith Lasley, reducing the home side to ten men.
‘Well pushed and eventually grabbed the winner when former Scotland under-21 hit-man Jamie Murphy latched on to a ball over the top and coolly dispatched under Jamie Langfield.
Stuart McCall made three changes from the weekend, with Chris Humphrey, Jonathan Page and Steve Jones all dropping out. They were replaced by Jamie Murphy, Ross Forbes and Francis Jeffers, who was making his full debut.
After losing such an early goal at Ibrox three days previous, McCall’s message to his Motherwell troops in the dressing room beforehand would surely have centred on avoiding a repeat at a wet and windy Pittodrie.
So who knows what was going through the head of the former Bradford City boss when Sone Aluko put the home side ahead within the first two minutes. The Nigerian made the goal look simple but it was a strike of some quality – albeit McCall and Black will no doubt pick the bones out of it when the team next meets to go analyse the match.
The 21-year-old winger started the move in the middle of the park and after spreading it wide to the left flank for Steven Smith, continued his run towards the edge of the box. He received the return pass from the on-loan Norwich full-back and expertly dinked the ball over the recovering Shaun Hutchinson, before blasting past Darren Randolph into the far corner of the net – his first goal in eleven months.
After the capitulation at Ibrox at the weekend, most of the 200 or so travelling ‘Well fans in the South Stand must have feared for their team. They needn’t have worried!
Motherwell immediately set about clawing their way back into the game and went on to dominate most of the first half.
The returning Ross Forbes, playing on the left hand side of a midfield diamond, was industrious for the Steelmen throughout and he almost brought his side level with a trademark free-kick, curling a left-footed strike from the edge of the box. Jamie Langfield was forced into a terrific one-handed save at the expense of a corner kick.
‘Well, clad in all white, were very much on top and their movement and range of passing was causing menace amongst the home ranks. Jamie Murphy, playing slightly deeper than his usual striking role, collected a Keith Lasley square ball and unleashed a stinging effort from the edge of the box that Langfield could only beat away before collecting at the second attempt.
It was looking more and more likely that the Steelmen would equalise and new boy Francis Jeffers duly delivered on the fourteen minute mark. Stephen Craigan collected from a Gunning throw-in on the left flank and delivered a terrific cross into the area. The former Arsenal and Everton man flicked the ball on with a deft header, over Langfield, and into the net for his first goal in Claret and Amber.
The goal didn’t stop the Steelmen in their tracks and Jeffers almost got his second just two minutes later but was halted by another terrific block by Langfield. Jamie Murphy was the creator, bursting down the left flank before drilling a low ball across the face of goal. It took a fortuitous bounce off a defender, landing at the feet of the 30-year-old, but his side-footed effort was stopped by the legs of the Aberdeen keeper as the Dons survived.
It continued to be all Motherwell but, incredibly, it was Aberdeen who came within inches of scoring totally against the run of play. Former Motherwell trialist David McNamee collected the ball on the right flank, shifted it on to his left foot, before looping a terrific ball into the area. Scott Vernon met it but his header dropped just wide of the post.
Hartley blasted wide and, down the other end, Murphy had another fearsome shot that narrowly cleared Langfield’s crossbar.
Jeffers was looking lively for ‘Well, taking up great positions, and he was almost the hero again as the half-time interval approached. Dancing round two challenges, the pint-sized hitman prodded a low shot that was comfortable for Langfield to hold.
For all the away side dominated the first forty-five, Scott Vernon almost put the Dons in-front with the last effort of the first half. The former Blackpool striker managed to shimmy past two challenges before striking a decent enough effort that Darren Randolph spilled. Fortunately for the Irish keeper, it squirmed wide of the post for a corner which ‘Well comfortably cleared.
Games are often defined by official’s decisions and, at the start of the second half, referee Steven McLean had a tough call to make as Paul Hartley and Keith Lasley clashed in the centre circle. The Motherwell midfielder jumped to win a header and caught the Dons captain with his arm. The former Celtic and Hearts man didn’t like it, and kicked out – sparking a 20-man shoving match.
When things were calmed down, Hartley was ordered off for his retaliation and Lasley was booked for his clumsy – at worse – challenge. There were howls of derision from the home stands but television replays suggest the official got this one spot on.
McCall quickly made some changes with Chris Humphrey replacing Jeffers and Hammell coming on for Lasley, who had taken another sore kick to his already bruised ribs.
Humphrey almost made an immediate impact, finding space on the right wing and hanging up a lovely cross towards the back post for John Sutton. The former St Mirren man almost added to his eight goals this campaign with a decent header but, again, Langfield was in fine form and blocked with one hand.
However, he was beaten shortly after when Motherwell finally took the lead. Langfield’s long goal kick was headed back down field by Gunning and was helped on by Zander Diamond, who was caught slightly under the ball. That allowed former 21-year old Jamie Murphy to race clear of Nikola Vujadinović and coolly slot the ball under Langfield for 2-1.
Despite their ten men, Aberdeen pushed hard for a leveller but didn’t really trouble Darren Randolph in the Motherwell goal. Indeed, in the last few seconds, Murphy almost added gloss to the ‘Well win after running the full length of the half, rounding the keeper only for his shot to be cleared off the line by Smith.
That wouldn’t take away from what was an excellent win and performance from the ‘Well – exercising some of the ghosts from the recent past.
[tab:As it happened]
Alan Burrows at Pittodrie:
90mins – Full Time! Dons 1 – 2 ‘Well – C’Mon yea ‘Well!
88mins – Murphy has a great chance after running the full length. Steven Smith somehow hooks off the line though.
79mins – Aberdeen are throwing everything at Well but not really troubling Darren Randolph
75mins – Tempers are flaring. Maguire and Hateley both booked. Hateley was lucky there I think! ‘Well NEED to keep the discipline!
73mins – Vernon almost brings Aberdeen level but his strike drops just wide. Phew!
72mins – Aberdeen hook Nick Blackman too!
71mins – Young striker latches on to a ball over the top and finishes under Langfield in style. C’mon now ‘Well – hold on!
GOOOOOOOALLLLLLL Motherwell! JAMIE MURPHY! YA WEE BEAUTY!
69mins – Another terrific Humphrey cross is hung up towards the back post. No takers, it bounces down to Gunning but he blazes well over!
67mins – Resulting corner eventually finds Sutton at the back post but his header is well saved by Langfield!
66mins – Great ball by Forbes has Humphrey in. His low ball across the face is somehow cleared for a corner.
62mins – That should be, Blackman bursting through! Getting too excited here! C’mon the Steelmen!
62mins – Quick throw has Blackman bursting throw. His shot takes out an oil worker on a rig half way to Norway though… New ball please!
60mins – Another ‘Well sub. Lasley looks as if he’s hurt and is replaced by Hammell. That means things are switched around.
60mins – Dons look up for it after being reduced to 10 men! ‘Well have to just calm things down and play.
57mins – Langfield and Craigan also carded in the melee! ‘Well sub too as Jeffers, who has worked his socks off, is replaced by Humphrey.
57mins – Paul Hartley is sent off for hitting out at Hartley! Lasley is booked for the initial challenge. Mayhem at Pittidrie!
55mins – Burst up in the middle of the park as Lasley clashes with Hartley.
52mins – Aberdeen chance inside the area but a shot at the back post is somehow blocked for a corner. Randolph gathers the resulting kick
50mins – Free kick into the area is turned back across the face by Hutchinson but no takers as Aberdeen get it clear.
49mins – Jeffers is on the end of a really bad tackle from Diamond and he is down hurt. Hope he is ok – that’s the last thing we’d need!
49mins – Murphy, Lasley and Jeffers combine to tee up Gunning but his shot blazes waaaayyy over the bar. Still 1-1!
48mins – End to end stuff here but Dons show first and have an early corner. Keep it tight ‘Well!
46mins – Teams are out and it’s Well to kick-off. Keep your fingers crossed folks!
45mins – Half Time! Excellent first-half for the Steemen. Shame about the early goal though. Some of the football has been terrific!
45mins – Murphy’s attempted looping effort bounces wayy wide of goal. Still, good pressure from the Steelmen.
42mins – Motherwell’s front three is running a mock! Just need to add another goal to things! C’Mon ye ‘Well!!!!!!
41mins – Jeffers immediately puts ‘Well on the attack though. Hutchinson finishes with the shot that is held by Langfield!
40mins – Vernon’s run and shot almost puts Aberdeen ahead but Randolph turns round – just. I think I’d cry if Aberdeen scored there.
39mins – I’m not kidding – we’re tearing Aberdeen to shreds. Jeffers dances round three challenges but his shot is comfortable for JL!
36mins – Another terrific move followed by a curling shot from Murphy goes just over. Thought JL got a touch on that?
34mins – Aberdeen venture into the Well area for the first time in what seems like ages. Hartley’s shot from distance bounces just wide.
31mins – Murphy’s ball into the box almost finds Jeffers but he is sniffed out by the Dons defense allowing Langfield to gather!
29mins – ‘Well corner into the box causes problems but Aberdeen just about scrape it clear. Their attempted break is halted by Jennings!
26mins – Another good ball into the area, Sutton gets on the end but his effort goes high over the bar… C’Mon ‘Well – keep this up…
24mins – OMG! Another terrific curling effort from Jeffers, after more great build-up – but what a save by Langfield! Corner!
23mins – Well are playing some terrific football. It’s a joy to watch. We’re cutting Aberdeen open – just need some luck in the final 1/3
19mins – Jeez! Down the other end, Aberdeen almost make it 2-1 themselves. McNamee’s cross is flicked on by Vernon but it drops just wide.
18mins – Offt, Jeffers almost makes it 2-1. Murphy’s ball into the middle finds the striker and his shot is brilliantly saved by Langfield.
14mins – The former Arsenal man gets on the end of a Gunning (I think) cross from the left and looped a header over Langfield! Magnificent!
GOOOALLL MOTHERWELL! FRANCIS JEFFERS! GET IN!!
10mins – Motherwell are now playing some really, really nice football. An early reply would be great! C’Mon ‘Well!
9mins – Motherwell threaten again – Lasley tees up Jamie Murphy and his thunderous effort is beaten away by Langfield and eventually saved.
5mins – Ross Forbes almost brings ‘Well back into the game with a fantastic free-kick but Langfield turns over for a corner.
2mins – Terrible start for the Steelmen. Aberdeen are well on top at the moment…. Hopefully we can weather the early storm.
2mins – GOAL for Aberdeen! Aluko! The striker somehow finds space in the box and smashes a fearsome effort in off the far post. Disaster!
1mins – And the game gets underway.
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“It was a big game for us tonight and it has pushed us back into where we want to be. At times we played some excellent stuff. I am delighted with the victory – we needed it.
“We haven’t got the points that our performances have merited. I thought the first-half performance was outstanding, especially to go a goal down so early on,” McCall told BBC Radio Scotland.
“People probably thought Motherwell were going to crumble, but the players deserve full credit. Franny Jeffers’ movement – I thought he and (John) Sutton combined well. But throughout the side I was really pleased with them.
“We looked dangerous all night. When you get beat like we did on Saturday (6-0 by Rangers), everyone hurts. I am absolutely delighted for the band of supporters that made it here tonight. I am so pleased for them.”
Aberdeen manager Craig Brown:
“The better team won; We didn’t play at all well. We were determined to make a good start because Motherwell had lost by six at the weekend. The goal should have been the impetus that we required.
“But Motherwell, to their credit, settled down and played exceptionally well in the first 15 minutes.”