Alan Burrows at Fir Park
Despite taking the lead midway through the first-half, Motherwell lost 2-1 to Leeds in an entertaining pre-season friendly at Fir Park.
The Steelmen went ahead thanks to a wonderfully crafted Jamie Murphy goal; the former Scotland U21 star getting on the end of a terrific Chris Humphrey cross.
Leeds stepped it up in the second-half and the introduction of Max Gradel proved to be a turning point. The wingers corner set-up fellow substitute Alex Bruce to slot home before combining with Ramón Núñez who scored the winner.
Steven Hammell and Michael Higdon both passed late fitness tests and made the game, meaning ‘Well boss Stuart McCall opted for the same starting eleven that overcame Partick Thistle on Wednesday night.
It was a surprisingly quiet opening twenty minutes with only Billy Paynter causing any problems for the home defence. The big striker headed wide after three minutes and over after fourteen but that was the sum total of the chances in the opening stages.
The game did eventually burst to life midway through the first half and the visitors thought they had gone ahead when that man Paynter put the ball past Randolph after a great Adam Clayton cross from the left. Thankfully for the Steelmen, assistant referee Martin Cryans came to rescue, rightly flagging for offside.
Two minutes later, Motherwell responded with a Hammell effort that almost put the hosts ahead. The full-back combined excellently with Nicky Law on the edge of the area before curling a left-footed effort off the outside of the post which was eventually cleared by the United defence.
That action, along with a light rain shower, made the game slightly faster as both teams got their passing in.
No team looked to be gaining the upper hand until referee Willie Collum handed the Elland Road club a golden opportunity to get their noses in front. Lloyd Sam broke into the area on the left flank and was tightly marked by both Hammell and Law. The winger hit the deck rather unconvincingly and much to the surprise of the Motherwell defence and many of the 4798 inside Fir Park, the referee pointed to the spot.
Former ‘Well ace Ross McCormack stepped up and side-footed a low effort that was brilliantly saved by Randolph low to his left – the big Irishman’s first penalty save in a ‘Well shirt.
Whether it was a sense of injustice or not, that chance seemed to spark the Fir Parkers to life and Tom Hateley almost put his side ahead with a curling free-kick from the edge of the box after Patrick Kisnorbo had fouled Michael Higdon.
However, Motherwell wouldn’t be denied and took the lead a minute later with a goal right out the top drawer. Steve Jennings collected in the middle of the park before releasing Chris Humphrey clear down the right flank with a lovely reverse pass. The former Shrewsbury Town winger delivered a terrific ball across the face of goal where Jamie Murphy was on hand to slot home. A sensational sweeping move from the Fir Park side!
Stuart McCall made a couple of substitutions at the interval with Ross Forbes and Jordan Halsman replacing Keith Lasley and Stevie Hammell.
The changes didn’t had any adverse effect on the home side as Higdon almost headed home a Hateley corner after just two minutes. Shortly after, Murphy almost doubled his and Motherwell’s tally for the day with a brilliantly run; skinning three players only for his shot to be saved by the feet of Rachubka.
Motherwell were sensing blood and only an excellent headed clearance from sub Alex Bruce kept it at 1-0 as Tom Hateley’s corner from the left was dropping straight in.
Leeds, to their credit, upped their game and had a couple of efforts that almost brought them level. McCormack, keen to make up for his penalty miss; saw his shot deflected for a corner. The resulting kick from the quadrant was almost turned into his own net by Higdon but Randolph saved his blushes by tipping over.
With the light drizzle turning into a full-on downpour, the away side continued to attack and Ramón Núñez and Robert Snodgress both went close, denied by excellent stops from ‘Well keeper Darren Randolph.
The pressure finally told as the tourists drew level and, unfortunately for Randolph, the lashing rain had made the ball like a bar of soap. Max Gradel’s corner was spilled by the goalkeeper allowing fellow sub Alex Bruce to prod home from close range.
Minutes later, the same player almost made it 2-1 Leeds with an excellent volley but he was foiled by an equally excellent save by Randolph, the Republic of Ireland International seeing it late but still somehow managing to get a good two hands to the ball, pushing it away to safety.
Leeds had turned the screw big time and got themselves ahead eight minutes after Bruce had got them back on level terms. Núñez and Gradel combined on the edge of the area and the former beat the offside trap, just, before tucking beyond the helpless Randolph to send the 1,913 Leeds fans in the South Stand into raptures.
Motherwell fought bravely to get back in the game and on the stroke of full-time, Chris Humphrey came within inches of levelling only for his shot to be blocked. Gary Smith couldn’t react quick enough to the rebound and the chance was gone.
Despite the defeat, ‘Well boss Stuart McCall will be happy with the workout ahead of next Saturday’s SPL opener with Inverness Caley Thistle.
[tab:As it happened]
Graham Barnstaple at Fir Park
Full time – 2-1 Leeds in what was a decent game, ‘Well fans showing some appreciation to their side who played well against a decent side.
88mins – Two more changes – McHugh on for Murphy and Saunders on for Hateley.
85mins – Young Jordan Halsman has not looked out place since coming on at half time. He has been solid in defence and linked well with midfield.
75mins – GOAL 1-2, Gradel sets up Nunez who looked offside and he picks his spot behind Randolph – they have stepped it up this half.
74mins – Higdon replaced by Gary Smith, Leeds have made nine subs!!
68mins – GOAL 1-1, Gradel corner into six yard box was dropped by the otherwise impressive Randolph allowing Bruce to smash home from close range.
58mins – Leeds attendance confirmed as 1913, decent turn out from both sets of fans for a pre-season game.
58mins – Crowd announced as 4798, with almost half of them being Leeds fans.
55mins – At the other end Darren Randolph finger tips a miscued Higdon header over the bar to save the striker’s blushes.
51mins – Hateley’s in swinging corner was dropping in at the back post but Bruce got back to clear off the line.
49mins – Great 50 yard solo run by Murphy sees his shot blocked by the keeper when clean through.
45mins – Motherwell get the second 45 underway.
Half Time – Four changes for Leeds at half time with Snodgrass, Bruce, Parker and Gradel coming on
Half Time – Two half time changes for Well, Halsman and Forbes on for Hammell and Lasley
Half time – Motherwell 1 Leeds United 0
39mins – Jennings sent Humprhey clear on the right and he left White for dead before sending a cross into the corridor of uncertainty for Murphy. Brilliant stuff from Motherwell!
39mins – GOOOOAAALLLL – What a move to set up Motherwell opener, which is finished by Jamie Murphy after a sweeping move down the right.
36mins – Good news for us Randolph saves McCormack’s spot kick low to his left – first penalty save by Darren as a Motherwell player.
35mins – Soft pen for Leeds, Lloyd Sam goes down under challenge from Hammelll and Law
24mins – Hammell and Law combine in the box, and Hammell sees his shot from a tight angle bounce clear off the outside of the post.
22mins – Leeds have the ball in the net with Paynter side footing in from close range but flag was rightly up for offside.
14mins – Paynter comes close, this time he heads over a free kick from the right..
3mins – Leeds almost open the scoring a cross from the right picks out Paynter at the back post but he side foots wide from a tight angle.
Kick-Off – Game underway with Leeds kicking off and Well kicking towards the South Stand end…
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“I though we played some good stuff, the goal showed the quality we have in the side.
“That is what we can do with the players we have in the side, if we can get the ball forward quickly not many can keep up with Chris Humphrey but Jamie Murphy did to get the ball in.
“The goal was terrific but I was disappointed to lose the game. It was an entertaining match with some good performances, but with areas to work on.”
Leeds Utd boss Simon Grayson: