Alan Temple at Fir Park
Motherwell and Kilmarnock shared the spoils in the torrential Fir Park rain, as the final home match of the campaign ended 1-1.
Steve Jones, pushing for a Cup final spot, opened the scoring early in the first half, cutting in from the flank and drilling past Cammy Bell, before a Willy Aubemayang tap-in levelled the score in the first half.
Cammy Bell and Darren Randolph both excelled in a lively second period, but no-one could grab all three points.
Stuart McCall had demanded an improvement, particularly in terms of defending, from the previous two matches, which had seen the Steelmen ship a remarkable nine goals. To that end – and with one eye on retaining fitness levels ahead of the Cup final – he made five changes.
Craigan, Saunders, Lasley, Sutton and Steve Jones came in for Gunning, Ross, Forbes, Carswell and Jeffers as the ‘Well gaffer made swathes of changes to his staring eleven.
Killie interim boss Kenny Shiels, who has made no secret of his desire to take the Rugby Park reins permanently, had his own recent woes ahead of kick-off, having still failed to break his duck in charge of the Ayshire club; six SPL matches without a victory.
Shiels made two changes from their recent 2-0 defeat to Celtic, bringing Jamie Fowler in for Mohamadou Sissoko and Willy Aubameyang in for Keiran Agard.
Motherwell certainly started like a side with a point to prove, and were ahead with the first truly concerted attack of the match after eight minutes. Steve Jones danced in from the left flanks and drilled a low, raking shot past Cammy Bell, who was utterly deceived by the effort.
Northern Ireland international Jones was causing the Killie defence all sorts of problems as he attempted to play himself in to Cup final reckoning, but it was Chris Humphrey on the opposite side who created the next decent chance, as the Jamiacan winger beat Garry Hay and whipped in a delightful cross, but there were no takers in the penalty area.
Kenny Shiels’ side began to enjoy more possession as the half progressed, particularly through Alexei Eremenko but, although the mercurial Finn was attempting to find the killer pass on numerous occasions, the ‘Well backline were dealing comfortably with the relatively pedestrian pace of the Killie attacks.
Indeed, only relatively tame efforts from Willy Aubemayang, with a header saved by Randolph, and Eremenko, who fired a shot straight down the throat of the Motherwell keeper, really tested the men in claret and amber.
And the hosts came close to doubling their lead seven minutes before the break. In fact, they did have the ball in the net. A wonderfully whipped cross from Chris Humphrey found the surging Steve Jennings on the edge of the six yard box, and his glancing header found the net via the far post. But the asistants flag was already raised.
An Alexei Eremenko free-kick, easily stopped by Randolph, would prove to be the final moment of interest in a relatively even first half, but one in which the home side patently had more cutting edge.
That lack of cutting edge was remedied a matter of minutes after the break, as Kimarnock burst out of the blocks in a blistering opening gambit to the second half. Eremenko, whose final ball had previously been wasteful, slipped a delightful through-ball to James Dayton who squared the ball perfectly for Willy Aubameyang to slot into the net.
It was a forebearer of things to come in the second half, as Kilmarnock enjoyed the vast majority of possession and territory. The rain lashed down on to the sodden turf, and chants of “Kenny must stay” poured down from the travelling fans in the South Stand, obviously enjoying what was being served up by the Caretaker’s charges.
Despite the possession enjoyed by the visitors Motherwell successfully kept the clear-cut opportunities to a minimum, and actually gradually found their feet in the half. That was illustrated as Chris Humphrey cut a teasing ball into the box which eluded everyone – including the goalkeeper and Francis Jeffers – before being cleared.
Darren Randolph, one of the stars of this Motherwell campaign, was once again on top form to make a splendid double save with twenty minutes left on the clock. Firstly, denying David Silva’s curling effort, then scurrying back his line to tip a Garry Hay deflected drive over the bar.
The Irish keeper was somewhat less stretched moments later, as Aubameyang wasted a good opportunity by heading tamely at the stopper from eight yards out.
Not to be outdone, Cammy Bell made a stunning save with five minutes left to play. Bell, who was superb on his last visit to Fir Park too, dived to brilliantly parry away a powerful Shaun Hutchinson header.
Both sides were pushing admirably for a winner, despite there being little to play for, and Garry Hay forced another good save from the ‘Well keeper as the Killie veteran drove in a powerful shot from just inside the area.
That proved to be the final action of the encounter, as the curtain fell on another tumultuous season of home encounters at Fir Park – with all the focus now on a mouth-watering double-header against Celtic to come.
[tab:As it happened]
Graham Barnstaple at Fir Park
Full time – 1-1 at Fir Park, same summary as half time, Killie better in possession we looked better on break
90mins – Carswell on for Lasley with only two minutes being added on
86mins – Play switches to the other end and Randolph pulls off a fine save from a Hay piledriver
85mins – Hutchinson header across goal clawed out one handed by Bell, not takers for the rebound
82mins – Gunning on for Hammell
80mins – Ref now giving fouls any time a Killie player hits the deck, and that is fairly regularly at the moment
78mins – Darren Randolph is not taking his goal kicks, but is kicking okay from open play??
74mins – Double save from Randolph from Silva and a deflected shot from Hay – keeps us in it
67mins – Killie sub, Dayton off, Taouil on
65mins – Tonight’s attendance is 4101, not bad for a wet Wednesday night at the end of the season
53mins – Yellow for Hateley, late on Dayton, then Jeffers on for Jones as a sub, Sutton now playing on the left with Franny up front
49mins – GOAL – Equaliser for Killie, Dayton cross from right turned in from close range by Aubameyang, 1-1 – not the best start to the half!
46mins – Second half underway with ‘Well kicking off
Half time: 1-0 Well, Killie loads of possession without a killer touch, we look good on the counter through the wide men
38mins – Humphrey cross from right headed in by Jennings but Assistant’s flag was up for offside – tight call
25mins – Craigan long clearance finds Sutton who nicks in behind the defence only to be blocked by Bell, who is injured in the process
18mins – Dayton corner headed at back post by Clancy, cleared by combined efforts of Hammell and Randolph
15mins – Aubameyang shown yellow for a late tackle on Saunders
8mins – Steve Jones goal is his first League goal for the club, his only other goal coming against Stranraer in the Cup
8mins – GOOOOAALLLL – Steve Jones cuts in off the left wing and his 18 yard shot proves too powerful for Cammy Bell 1-0 Well
1min – ‘Well win the toss, Killie kick off, and we are shooting towards the South Stand.
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“I would have loved to have won the last home game of the season but I thought we dealt well with a Kilmarnock team, who we have seen can play a bit this season.
“I was pleased with our application and the way we played the game, although it would have been nice to win, especially after we scored and then Jenno [Jennings] has a goal disallowed. But it was a well-deserved point.
“We have now got eleven days – obviously with the SPL match against Celtic in there – between us and the Cup final; the biggest game in many of the player’s and staff’s careers, really. We’ll approach Sunday in the correct manner, then we’ve got the big one.
“It’s just a fantastic way to end the season. For these lads to have started playing in Europe back in July, considering the lack of numbers, is terrific and they deserve every credit.”
Kilmarnock caretaker manager Kenny Shiels:
“I think it was a fantastic match. People talk about restructuring the league and all these negative things.
“We’ve got this narrow-mindedness that the league’s not good. With the population of Scotland it’s unbelievable the quality of play that can be produced.
“You would not see a game of football like that in England outside of the Premiership. In the Championship, League One and League Two, it’s hump the ball, it’s not attractive, it’s not good to watch.
“Nine games out of 10 we are involved in are really entertaining. We had a lot to play for tonight and we clinched fifth position, which is a terrific achievement.
“Motherwell contributed to the game, they got it down and tried to play but they couldn’t get the ball off us for long periods. I felt it was a thoroughly good match to watch.”