Alan Temple at the Creamery Park
A deflected Steve Hetherington strike was enough to secure all three points for Motherwell, as Gordon Young’s charges outclassed a dogged Inverness side at Creamery Park.
Despite the deceptively close score-line, the hosts dominated the vast majority of the encounter and could – perhaps should – have racked up a more comfortable victory.
Hetherington’s goal, after twenty minutes, was just rewards for a lively opening by the home side and, more specifically, a terrific individual display from the U19s captain, who was in imperious form while patrolling the midfield.
Craig Moore was denied in the first half by an excellent Edward Baldy save, while the industrious Keiran McGachie also came close a couple of times. Lee Erwin also curled a shot just wide as the young Steelmen utterly controlled the play.
Yet the Highlanders could have left Bathgate having stolen a point, as Liam Polwarth curled a speculative effort inches over Willie Muir’s cross-bar in the dying minutes of the encounter.
After an impressive 1-1 draw with league champions Celtic last Saturday, Gordon Young made just one change to his starting line-up, with Josh Watt dropping out to be replaced by Lee Erwin. The addition of a striker in place of a midfielder allowed ‘Well to set up with an expansive 4-3-3 against the Caley Jags.
The attacking change certainly had the desired effect, as Motherwell controlled the tempo and created chances from the start of an entertaining affair. After just two minutes Craig Moore had fired a warning shot across the visitors’ bow, scrambling an effort just wide after a nice delivery from Hetherington.
Moore was then denied by Edward Baldy; the Caley keeper making the first good save of a busy afternoon at Creamery Park. The 17-year old Steelmen striker raced onto a hopeful through-ball, capatalising on some lax defending from Caley, and tried to slot his effort past the keeper, but Baldy was quick off his line and smothered well.
The only real threat to the Motherwell backline in the early stages was the direct running of Kyle Whyte. The lively left-winger showed admirable willingness to run at the ‘Well right-back Darren Brownlie, and lashed a shot over the bar after fifteen minutes – the first real half-chance for Duncan Shearer’s side.
The deserved, and inevitable, opener came after twenty minutes, and it displayed the creativity and imagination which has become synonymous with Gordon Young’s successful regime.
A clever short corner allowed Hetherington to manufacture some space on the edge of the area as everyone was sucked into the penalty area, and the ‘Well skipper proceeded to smash a left-footed drive towards goal. The sweetly struck effort looked to be goal-bound, but a deflection off the unfortunate Martain Laing ensured Baldy had absolutely no chance as the ball soared into the top corner.
Calum Dingwall blazed a couple of efforts off target as the half progressed and Caley struggled to find a foothold, but it should have been Motherwell who extended their lead.
On the stroke of half-time Hetherington surged forward and, with nobody closing him down, unleashed a ferocious left-footed drive. Despite a despairing dive, Baldy was nowhere near it and could only look on in relief as the ball rattled the post.
The half-time interval saw the heavens open in Bathgate, something which, combined with a slightly rutted pitch, wasn’t overly conducive to the Motherwell kids’ style of football but, to their credit, ‘Well continued to play some lovely passive football and really should have put the game to bed in the second period.
Herman Mboa Makonga was first to threaten as, ten minutes into the second half as he headed into the arms of Baldy from inside the area after some beautifully crafted build up play between Keiran McDonald and Zaine Francis-Angol.
The Motherwell front three of Erwin, Moore and McGachie were keeping the Inverness backline on their toes, and the latter came close to making it two-nil on the hour mark. The bustling striker received a pass from Moore and, after a sharp turn, caressed a decent effort just wide of the post from twenty yards.
Erwin was the next of ‘Well’s promising attacking trio to threaten, curling a left-footed shot inches wide of the post after some excellent work by McGachie, who dispossessed left-back Tom Smith.
Smith’s afternoon then got worse as he perpetrated a woeful back-pass, allowing Erwin to steal in and round the keeper, but the 17-year old’s effort from an acute angle was cleared off the line.
With five minutes still to play Motherwell could have finally put the game to bed as Craig Moore ran clear on goal but his shot from just inside the box was save by the onrushing Baldy – the Caley keeper proving to be one of the few lads in blue and red to emerge from the encounter with their reputation enhanced.
Yet, remarkably Inverness Caledonian Thistle, having been cut open several times and lucky to only be a goal down, could have headed north with a point.
As injury-time approached Liam Polwarth received the ball on the edge of the box and unleashed a lovely curling effort. The ball went inches over the bar, with Willie Muir beaten. It proved to be the closest the visitors would come as Motherwell saw the game out for a deserved win.
Motherwell: Muir, Fancis-Angol, Cummins, Murray, Brownlie, Hetherington, Mboa Mekongo, MacDonald, Erwin, Moore, McGachie (Leitch – 75mins)
Subs Not Used: Stewart, Ashgar, Green, Lynch