A sensational strike from stand-in skipper Stevie Hammell moved Motherwell level on points with Rangers and swept Aberdeen aside 1-0 in the Fir Park sunshine.
The ‘Well’s makeshift defence of Jonathan Page and debutant Adam Cummins impressed, as did Stuart Carswell as Stuart McCall looked to his youth to fill the gaps created by suspensions to key players.
The win was hard fought and despite a lot of second half pressure form the Dons, Craig Brown’s side fell to their first defeat of the calendar year.
Aberdeen had the best of the opening exchanges, with Gavin Rae firing well over when he should have at least tested Darren Randolph when space opened up in front of him after just two minutes.
Scott Vernon, usually so prolific in front of goal, trundled a shot from distance right in to Randolph’s hands after 14 minutes, as the Dons looked to capitalise on the inexperienced defensive pairing for Motherwell.
The Steelmen’s first meaningful venture upfield came after some neat work on the left by Nicky Law allowed Steven Hammell to swing in a deep cross that found the head of Michael Higdon; the Scouse striker was deemed to have climbed on Considine before the ball crossed the line.
Considine was then booked for taking out Henrik Ojamaa who was arguably clean through on goal. The Aberdeen skipper walked a tightrope for the rest of the game, committing similar fouls on Ojamaa and Higdon without further punishment.
Motherwell took the lead just after the midway point of the first period and it was a goal of some quality from Stevie Hammell. Tom Hateley’s throw fell at Ojamaa’s feet and his intelligent pass inside found the full-back 35-yards from goal. He looked up and unleashed a thunderbolt of a strike past Jason Brown and into the keeper’s top right hand corner.
That magnificent strike brought with it some swagger from the home side, with Chris Humphrey having a whipped cross cleared by McCardle, before Brown made a great one handed save from close range after Stuart Carswell had bundled through the Dons’ defence.
Steve Jennings almost joined the rare goals club when he rose to head a great Humphrey cross, but his effort was held by Brown.
The home side looked as if they would go in with a half-time lead but Andy Considine had Motherwell hearts in mouths just before the break when he was picked out in the box from a Clark Robertson corner; the defender shinned his effort well over.
Into the second half and young Carswell almost made it 2-0 after Ojamaa and Nicky Law linked up well on the left to play him in, but Brown made a fine low save to thwart the midfielder.
The Dons had early second half chances of their own, Fallon ballooned an effort into the travelling fans when he should have struck on target. Kari Arnason followed that up with a daisy cutter that Randolph could have dropped his cap on.
Aberdeen’s best chance of the match came with Vernon got on the end of Ryan Jack’s driven cross but was thwarted by the brilliance of Darren Randolph as he palmed the volley over from point blank range. From the corner, Fallon headed wide, as Aberdeen pressed for an equaliser.
Steve Jennings took a nasty headknock in a challenge with Considine and Arnason, meaning he had to leave the pitch for treatment. In his absence, the 10 men in Claret and Amber stuck steadfastly to their game plan and soaked up all the pressure the Dons applied. Upon his return, bandaged and bloodied, the ‘Well faithful gave him a rapturous applause. He continued where he left off by brilliantly tracking back and covering runs, helping out Cummins and Page when needed.
Humphrey was terrorising Chris Clark on the left wing and brought a fantastic save out of Brown, when he cut in past the makeshift left back, only to see his shot beaten out by the in-form keeper.
The game became s crappy with Arnason and Hateley both booked for rash challenges in the middle of the park. Henrik Ojamaa showed what a handful he could for Reynolds and Considine, and when the Dons’ captain slipped, the Estonian gleefully ran at goal. However, he ran in to a cul-de-sac when a square pass to Higdon would surely have put the game to bed, and the chance was gone.
As the game ticked down, Humphrey blasted well wide after getting himself in a similar position to what he had earlier, before crossing to close to Brown with Law waiting in the middle. There was an anxious three minutes of stoppage time but the Fir Parkers held firm for a crucial three points.
[tab:As it happened]
Alastair Reilly at Fir Park
FULL TIME! 1-0 to the mighty ‘Well. HUGE 3 points!
90mins: 3 minutes added on….Nervous?
85mins: Unlucky Chris Humphrey. The winger’s pace relieves the pressure and he does well to get into the box. His shot blazes well wide.
81mins: McHugh on for Ojamaa.
78mins: Backs to the wall stuff now as Aberdeen turn up the pressure.
70mins: Humphrey’s shot is parried by Brown straight to Higdon. as the big man pulls the trigger, Considine slides in to block.
68mins: And Jennings takes to the field to huge applause….head bandage and all.
67mins: Danger averted by the strong Motherwell wall.
66mins: Page booked for a soft looking tackle on the edge of the area. danger here….
62mins: Jennings receiving treatment for a cut to the head.
58mins: Considine on thin ice now with another poor challenge. From the free-kick, Page heads just over.
50mins: 4630 fans here today. Thank you to you all.
48mins: Stuart Carswell goes close with a 20 yard drive. Safe hands from Brown deny the youngster.
46mins: And we’re back in action at Fir Park.
HALF-TIME: A deserved first half lead for Motherwell.
42mins: Great chance for Jennings as the ball is dinked towards the Scouser’s head, didn’t quite get enough on it to trouble Brown though!
36mins: ¾ of the first-half gone, still 1-0. Motherwell well on top with Ojamaa and Humphrey looking dangerous.
22mins: GOAL!!! Stevie Hammell 30 yard rocket!!!!!!
16mins: Considine booked for a crunching challenge on Ojamaa.
15mins: Chance Motherwell! Hammell floats a ball in from the left towards Higdon, but the big man is ruled to have been climbing.
10mins: Quiet start at Fir Park. The makeshift backline is coping admirably so far. Mon the ‘Well!
3mins: First half chance of the game as Vernon races clear of the defence only to be thwarted by Darren Randolph’s slide challenge
KICK-OFF – C’mon the ‘Well!
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“It is a massive result for us, especially with the way that the other games went today.
“To be honest, before the game with the depletion we had I would have settled for a point but all of the guys were excellent.
“We had four of our centre-backs out today, you wouldn’t worry about that if they had a more experienced player to play alongside but it was a big ask to have them playing together.
“Throughout the side we were excellent and I thought we deserved to win.”
Aberdeen manager Craig Brown:
“Motherwell have some fantastic young players and (youth team manager) Gordon Young and (chief scout) Bobby Jenks deserve a medal for the fantastic work they do.
“This wasn’t a vintage Aberdeen performance, we didn’t show the right enthusiasm and confidence.
“You have to remember though that this was our first defeat of the year and was a very narrow one at that, we will now have to pick ourselves up as we have some big games between now and the end of the season.”