Kris Jack at Fir Park
Motherwell signed off the 2011-12 SPL season with a 2-0 home defeat to Dundee United, but neither the fans nor the players were too despondent, as the game took a back foot to the celebrations of qualifying for the Champion’s League.
Goals from Johnny Russell and Jon Daly were the difference, but the home fans outsang their opponents all day long, as they partied in the stands ahead of The Well’s adventure in to Europe. The game also signalled the final game of Stephen Craigan’s career, after announcing his retirement from the game in midweek. The home fans were more than gracious in their tributes and chants in his honour, as he captained the side for the final time.
Indeed his inclusion in the side came at the cost of Tim Clancy, with Michael Higdon also returning to the starting line up, after missing the draw at Ibrox last week. Before the game, with the team walking on to the Champion’s League theme tune, Craigan received a plaque from Chairman Derek Weir in appreciation of the Northern Irishman’s tenure at Fir Park, as the stadium filled with chants of “One Stephen Craigan”. In the 5th minute, the fans were on their feet once more to show their respects to Motherwell’s most capped player.
It was the most exciting part of the opening minutes, as the blustery conditions made the game a bit of a mess from the off, with little in the way of goal mouth action. After the Craigan chants had died down, however, Dundee United took their best opportunity of the first half to go 1-0 up.
Stuart Armstrong burst down the right hand side and after cutting in to the box, unleashed a hot which Darren Randolph did well to parry away at his front post. The ball broke back to Armstrong and his cross deflected up on to the bar, before bouncing back to Johnny Russell, who poked home from close range. It briefly led to the United fans outsinging their hosts, but parity was restored amongst the Well faithful soon enough.
Steven Hammell was unfortunate to be stretchered off after a tussle with Danny Swanson after 12 mminutes, with Tim Clancy coming on in his place. Swanson then almost set up a second for the Terrors, when he released Russell on the right. The nippy frontman’s cross evaded all along the 6 yard line, before Jon Rankin hit the outside of the post, from an acute angle.
Motherwell’s cleanest chance of the half fell to Nicky law, who cracked a low drive from 20 yards low to the bottom corner, which Dusan Pernis managed to palm away for a corner. From a lter corner, Craigan almost capped his final game with a goal, but his header sailed just over from Hateley’s deep cross.
Chris Humphrey was looking lively on the right wing, and had a number of crosses after getting the better of Paul Dixon, but no one was looking lively to get on the end of them. Michael Higdon came closest to converting one when Humphrey robbed United captain Jon Daly in the box, but his centre bobbled up and over off Higdon’s thigh.
The half ended rather scrappily with United having two free kicks on the edge of the box in quick succession, with Dixon then Ritchie Ryan firing them just over.
It wasn’t the scoreline the home fans would have been wanting, had it been an important match, but given the occasion, there weren’t too many glum faces in the home support at half time.
After the restart, things threatened to boil over after a late challenge by Clancy provoked a similar reaction from Swanson on the half way line. Steve Jennings let his frustrations show, blootering the ball of Swanson as a small melee ensued, with only the United man booked. A few moments later, he was lucky not to he have seen a second yellow, when he took Clancy out of the game once more. As the home fans chanted for referee Euan Norris to send him off, the man in the middle decided to let it slide.
Peter Houston sensed Swanson w s in danger of leading his side down to ten men, and he quickly replaced the battling midfielder with Ryan Dow. The youngster’s first involvement was to blast over from inside the box, when he should really have tested Randolph. The big goalie was soon calle din to action when Rankin’s cross was touched on at the front post by Russell, and Daly powered a header goalward, only to be denied by the reflexes of the big Irish goalie.
Humphrey was continuing to get in behind Dixon and only a great claim by Pernis prevented a low ball across goal from reaching Murphy, before the Jamaican played a neat 1-2 with Hateley, which resulted in a cross just too high for Higdon.
The impressive Armstrong for Peter Houston’s men then tested Randolph woith a low fizzer, which was deflected in to the waiting arms of the keeper. Dow then shot wide at the near post after Dixon got past Humphrey to fire a low ball in. Motherwell seemed to invite United on, and Rankin almost capitalised with another long range effort which had Randolph at full stretch, which drifted just by.
Captain Craigan then almost ahd the crowd on it’s feet after more good wing play from Humphrey and Hateley, broke to him at the edge of the box. Despite making a great connection, his effort from 20 yards went agonisingly wide, as The Well searched for a leveller. Henrik Ojamaa replaced Nicky Law as Stuart McCall looked to add some creativity to the attack on 65 minutes. Tim Clancy and Jon daly then picked up bookings for some handbags after the former had fouled United sub Gary Mackay-Steven on the right wing.
Craigan eventually left the field to rapturous applause from the home fans, there to see the man who played over 350 times in Claret and Amber off to retirement. As he lapped up the applause, Ross Forbes came on to make his final appearance for The Well, and could have signed off in style, when given the opportunity to fire in a free kick. However, his ball in didn’t clear the first man, which allowed United to break, before Hately was harshly booked for bringing down MacKay-Steven.
With 8 minutes remaining, Jon Daly doubled Dundee United’s lead, when he bundled home from close range after Robertson’s ball in took a few deflections, teeing up the Tangerine’s captain to score his 18th SPL goal of the season. As loud as the United fans were behind the goal, The Well fan’s grew louder, knowing the match mattered not. As the game petered out, Higdon took a great dummy from Ojamaa in his stride before blasting his shot low and wide of Pernis’ right hand post.
As the referee blew for full time, an almighty cheer went up around the stadium, from both sets of fans, congratulating their sides for ending the season with a European tour. The home fans stayed inside the stadium to take in the player’s lap of honour, led by Craigan and his daughter. The rest of the squad embraced the applause and praise, collecting scarves and inflatables as they landed on the pitch, at the culmination of one of The Well’s greatest season’s in modern history.
The loss meant that StuarMcCall’s side finished with a record highest SPL points tally of 62, having won half of their 38 games. While the players and fans will no doubt enjoy the summer ahead, attentions will soon turn to next season, and the arrival of the Champion’s League at Fir Park.
[tab:As it happened]
Alan Burrows at Fir Park
1min: Murph and Las kick us off. Lets end the season in style!
5mins: And a minute of applause for retiring captain Stephen Craigan. An acknowledging thumbs up too from the big man!
7mins: Goal, Dundee United- Great double save from Randolph but the hitman was there to somehow scramble the ball home.
11mins: Stevie Hammell on the deck in some pain by the looks of things. A tangle of legs with Swanson….now being stretchered off!
18mins: There’s a few sombreros around and there is a Palm tree somewhere in the East but this weather is far from continental bliss!
19mins: United go close again. This time Hateley is on hand to clear a goalbound shot off the line
22mins: Law goes close with a 20 yard effort. Bounce decieved Pernis who parried out for a corner.
32mins: Great chance there for ‘Well! Humphrey battles down the wing and his cross flashes accross goal with no takers!
36mins: Exact same chance as that last tweet…except this time Higdon was there. The scouser couldn’t keep his shot down though. Still 0-1
39mins: Dixon’s wind assisted free-kick skims the top of Randolph’s bar. Unlucky there
44mins: Steve Jennings booked for a late challenge on Russell. The resulting free-kick is fired just over.
45mins: Now, the teams are back out. Mon the ‘Well!
52mins: Swanson booked for a terrible tackle on Lasley. Last game of the season and entirely unnecessary!
53mins: Swanson flies into another rash challenge…no booking though!
55mins: He’s off now though. Subbed off for Ryan Dow.
59mins: Brilliant save there from Randolph to tip Daly’s header over the bar.
65mins: ‘Well sub – Ojamaa on for Law.
67mins. Stephenn Craigan 20 yards out. On his left foot. Last ever game. Glory awaits……slices it well wide!
7,446 fans here today. Thanks to all as always.
79mins: ‘Well sub – Craigan departs from the Fir Park turf for the last time. Replaced by Ross Forbes.
81mins: Goal Dundee United – John Daly makes it 2-0.
2 minutes added on.
And that’s Full-time. A disappointing 0-2 defeat but what a season that has been! Unbelievable achievement!
Full time – Motherwell 0 Dundee United 2
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
Dundee United manager Peter Houston.