Kris Jack at Fir Park
A freak free-kick and a late breakaway goal left Motherwell with an uphill task if they are to progress in the UEFA Champion’s League.
Lazaros Christodoulopoulos’ early whipped set piece evaded all in the box to bounce behind Darren Randolph to give Panathinaikos the lead on 13 minutes.
Despite having the lion’s share of chances and possession, Stuart McCall’s men couldn’t find a leveller.
Substitute Charis Mavrias doubled the lead with his first touch, when he converted Sissoko’s pass on the break.
It now means Motherwell need to score at least twice in Athens without conceding to take anything from the tie.
For Motherwell’s first ever outing in Europe’s Premier competition, Stuart McCall opted for as experienced a side as he could put out. Keith Lasley donned the armband for the first time in competitive action since being named Captain, with latest signing Simon Ramsden taking the place of previous skipper Stephen Craigan in defence.
Shaun Hutchinson partnered the new boy at the back, while the rest of the starting XI took a familiar shape, with Higdon, Ojamaa and Murphy leading the attack, supported by Humphrey and Law. Tom Hateley and veteran Stevie Hammell filled the full back roles, while Darren Randolph was charged with keeping out the dreaded away goal.
Panathinaikos lined up with former Rangers defender Jean Alain Boumsong and Ibrahim Sissoko the most recognisable of the Greek sides men. Euro 2012 performer Katsouranis started on the bench, while Greek international skipper Giorgios Karagounis was left at home after a contract dispute. Toche and Lazaros would provide their main attacking threat, with recent forward signing Bruno Fornaroli hoping to make an impact from the bench.
With a noisy and colourful home crowd urging the Well on at kick off, the very least that was expected was a performance, and despite efforts from Lazaros and Toche early on, The Steelmen settled in to the game fairly well. Jamie Murphy, playing out on the left flank, played in Henrik Ojamaa on the edge of the box, but the Estonian’s effort was well blocked out by Boumsong. A well worked corner kick soon after almost paid dividends for ‘Well, when the set piece was worked to Humphrey at the edge of the box, but the Jamaican’s effort sailed just over the bar.
Despite carving the better chances, Motherwell fell behind on 14 minutes. A soft free kick on the left flank was delivered in to the box by Lazaros, and with Boumsong running across Randolph’s eye line, the ball swerved past the Irish keeper and in to the net. It evoked memories of the Nancy second leg, but with still plenty of the tie to go, the home fans got behind their team and urged them on to get back in to it.
Humphrey was identified as a threat on the wing, but his run wasn’t picked up at the back post, when he connected with Murphy’s deep cross. The ball bounced up as he tried to direct it on target though, resulting in him only finding the side netting.
Skipper Lasley then broke through the Pana defence, after a nice reverse ball from Murphy, but it fell on his weaker left foot, with his shot failing to hit the target. It was an impressive response from the home side to going a goal behind, and they certainly came in to the ascendancy.
Velasquez did well to block out Ojamaa before Michael Higdon headed straight at Karnezis from another threatening Murphy ball in. The Steelmen were certainly asking questions of their Greek opponents.
However, they were almost suckered with a quick-thinking throw allowed Lazaros time and space to line up a strike but he pulled his effort just wide. Shortly after, and with the interval approaching, Randolph made a great fingertip stop from Zeca’s 30 yard pile driver.
Within seconds of the restart, it could have been two nil, when Lazaros, broke free and shot just wide of Randolph’s left hand post.
Motherwell responded by firing balls in to the box, but Boumsong and Velasquez were equal to all thrown at them. A free kick from Hateley was bent in to the box, but Murphy’s front post effort was touched past by Vitolo.
Nicky Law, who had bossed the midfield beside Lasley all night, then roused the crowd with an effort from distance which the Greek keeper spilled, and had to sharply gather at the second attempt. Minutes later, a driven delivery from Hateley found the head of Higdon but his nodded attempt was again straight at Karnezis who gathered fairly easily.
Motherwell were providing much of the attacking threat and Boumsong had to make a timely block after Ojamaa had fed Law running in to the box, as the Steelmen sought an equaliser.
A sliced clearance from Randolph had claret and amber hearts in mouths, but fortunately the resultant corner was cleared to safety, allowing Ojamaa to break clear one-on-one with the last defender. With Murphy haring up the left hand side in support, all the Estonian had to do was play in ‘Well’s all time leading European goal scorer, but he opted to do too much on his own, allowing Velasquez to close the ball out for a corner.
It was a decent chance, and soon after the hosts were to pay the price for their lack of cutting edge.
As Motherwell pressed in the attacking third, Ojamaa was dispossessed with the ball falling to the tricky Sissoko. Despite the close attentions of the impressive pairing of Ramsden and Hutchinson, he managed to thread a pass to Mavrias, who coolly slotted the ball through Randolph’s legs and in to the net despite just entering the match as a substitute.
It was a cruel blow for McCall’s men.
The Greeks played the rest of the game, knowing the match was possibly over as a contest, with Omar Daley, who had replaced Ojamaa, conjuring up a half chance as the game rolled in to the 90th minute.
As the full time whistle blew, the 9035 fans in attendance applauded the teams off the park, knowing that the game was much tighter than the scoreline suggests.
A trip to Dingwall on Saturday will give the players another run out before the return leg in Athens next midweek.
[tab:As it happened]
Alastair Reilly at Fir Park
FULL TIME Motherwell 0-2 Panathinaikos
90mins: That’s is cruel but then that is football. You have to take your chances when you get them,
90mins: Should really have been 3. Fornaroli snatching at his shot from inside the area and blazing well over.
89mins: 4 added minutes
87mins: Actually that was Sissoko. He’s now back on.
86mins: The stretcher is on….looks like Zeca that is down. No more subs left if he fails to play on.
84mins: Though we had a pen there. Velazquez appeared to handle and the ref blew the whistle. Unfortunately it was for offside.
83mins: Pana’ Sub: Lazaros off for Fornaroli
82mins: It almost came there are Murphy cut the ball across the face of goal. Unfortunately nobody was there to convert.
82mins: Time to rally here and try and get a goal back. 2 corners in a row….
77mins: ‘Well sub: Daley on for Ojamaa.
75mins: GOAL: The sub makes it 2-0 with a low shot through Randolphs legs.
74mins: Pana sub: Toche off for Mavrias.
73mins: Zeca booked for a late challenge on Murphy.
71mins: Ugh. Ojamaa had Murphy clear on the overlap but failed to spot him and lost possession. had he done so, Murph was clean through.
70mins: A sliced clearance from Randolph allowed Zeca a clear run at goal. He showed no urgency and Ramsden slid in to clear.
66mins: Pana’ Sub: Marinos off for Katsouranis, who, of course, featured at EURO 2012.
63mins: Good spell of possession there for ‘Well no real chances but you can feel something coming if they keep going like this.
58mins: Law finds himself free inside the box on the angle. As he pulls the trigger, Velazquez slides in to block.
57mins: 9035 fans here tonight.
56mins: Dangerous free-kick for Pana’ just outside the box… Toche strikes straight into the wall.
51mins: And another good chance. Higdon with the bullet header which Karnezis is equal to. Great spell.
50mins: Law from 30 yards tests Karnezis. The ‘keeper spills it and the ball trickles goalbound. Good recovery though,
49mins: Lazaros edges into the box but slices his shot well into the South stand,
48mins: A positive start to the second half from Motherwell!
47mins: Hateley whips it in but Pana’ clear their lines.
47mins: A chance here. Free kick from a wide position…..deflected out for a corner.
46mins: 30 yard free-kick from Hateley stings Karnezis hands.
45mins: Almost off to a terrible start. Lazaros coming far too close for comfort with a long range effort.
45mins: Big 45 minutes coming up here! The teams are back out and we’re off!
HALF TIME: And there is the half-time whistle.
43mins: Almost half time and perhaps we’re a little unfortunate to be 1 down. Let’s nick a goal before we go to the break.
39mins: My goodness. That’s a great save from Randolph there! Brilliant effort from Zeca, acrobatically tipped over.
36mins: Pana’ starting to get back in this. Good chance for Toche there. He had time to run in but opted to shoot instead….thankfully.
34mins: Lazaros cuts inside and shoots just past. That looked too close for comfort.
33mins: So close again! Higgy rises well to direct a header goalbound from 10 yards. Straight at the keeper.
31mins: Corner Motherwell. Come on! Easily gathered by Karnezis though.
29mins: And up the other end it’s another half chance for Henrik. Just couldn’t get a clean strike on the ball and Karnezis gathers easily.
27mins: Uh-oh. A heart in mouth moment there as Pana’ swing in a tasty looking corner. Randolph scrambles off his line and claws clear.
25mins: And again! Lasley latched onto a great through ball however it was on his left side and he drilled it well over. Encouraging though!
23mins: Almost. ALMOST! Humphrey ghosts in at the back post but can’t quite get enough on it to direct it goalwards.
19mins: ‘Well starting to string some passes together. Exactly what is needed right now. However, on the break they look dangerous. Sissoko looks a real handful.
17mins: Corner for Panathinaikos… The Steelmen deal with the threat
11mins: It was an in-swinger – one of those ones where the delivery so good if nobody touches it, it will go in. Need to dig in now.
13mins -GOAL: Chistodopoulos. Its 1-0. Free kick from the edge of the box evades everyone and find the back of the net. Shades of Nancy in 2008.
9mins: Ohhhh! Almost a wonder strike from Humphrey there. Must have from been all of 30 yards and it flies just over. Unlucky!
8mins: It’s 100mph stuff now.
6mins: Another half chance there for ‘Well. Ojamaa latches onto Murphys ball.He slides in but his effort is blocked.
4mins: Oooohh, got a bit loud there. Hateley’s deep curled ball looked Higdon bound but Seitaidis did enough to cut it out.
3mins: Lazaros blazes well over. ‘Well will need to be wary of him.
3mins: Danger. Sissoko wins a free-kick just outside the box.
1mins: Usual start really. Fir Park is bouncing.
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“I think we more than matched them. I don’t think the scoreline reflected the performance. I just wanted the lads to put in a performance their families and the fans would be proud of and they did that.
“I’m disappointed with the goals. We talked about not giving silly free-kicks away with the boy’s ability from set-pieces. We didn’t want to go out with a whimper. We were pressing and probing and most people thought the goal was coming.
“It would have been nice if we could have got it to 1-1, but it wasn’t to be.”
Panathinaikos manager Jesualdo Ferreira:
“We experienced pressure from Motherwell, but whenever we had the opportunity to break quickly, we created problems.
“Motherwell work hard and play football that is difficult to control, but I thought we deserved the win.”