Alan Burrows @ the Olympic Stadium
Motherwell were eliminated from the UEFA Champions League in the baking Greek heat as Panathinaikos ran out comfortable 3-0 winners at the Olympic Stadium.
The Steelmen battled hard and deservedly went in level at the interval, even mustering a couple of shots at goal.
But a gem of a free-kick from Lazaros Christodoulopoulos and a quick counter from speed-merchant Charis Mavrias had the travelling ‘Well fans thinking back to the home leg.
By the time Ivorian Ibrahim Sissoko added a third a brave and battling Steelmen were spent but far from disgraced.
Stuart McCall made just one change from the side that drew 0-0 with Ross County in the Highlands last Saturday. Michael Higdon was sacrificed for young Adam Cummins as Stuart McCall shuffled the formation going three at the back with the two wide players supporting the solitary Henrik Ojamaa in attack.
It was a fairly even in the first few minutes although the home side could claim the better of the chances. Toché trundled a half-chance at Darren Randolph before passing up a glorious opportunity just seconds later. Collecting the ball from a neat pass, the Spaniard had the whole goal to aim at but somehow blasted it wide when a goal seemed certain.
The Steelmen came more and more into things and knocked the ball about well in the stifling Greek heat but were unable to open up the opposition defence.
In contrast, Toché looked to have been presented with yet another glorious chance to score but he was thwarted by the assistant’s flag although it probably saved the 29-year old’s blushes after a poor first touch.
Motherwell finally made inroads into the Panathinaikos half and incredibly, with their first shot, almost took the lead. Skipper Keith Lasley collected the ball some thirty yards from goal and after taking a few strides forward, unleashed a stinging effort that forced Orestis Karnezis into a two-handed save.
Shortly after, McCall’s men looked to have created a decent chance inside the box but Omar Daley opted to pass rather than shot on the edge and it was half cleared. When Hammell eventually swung in the second ball, Daley gave away a foul.
It was a heartening sight for the 500+ ‘Well fans in the Olympic Stadium who perhaps began to believe the incredible could happen although last week’s goalscorer Christodoulopoulos served warning of his ability from a dead ball by almost netted a carbon-copy of his strike at Fir Park.
Thankfully Irish International Randolph was well placed to block despite the best efforts of Jean-Alain Boumsong who had made the decoy run once again.
The longer the half wire on the more ‘Well were making an impact. Another long range effort by skipper Lasley was testament to Motherwell’s competitiveness as the first forty-five went on. Indeed, the Lanarkshire men ended the half with an incredible 57% possession and a great deal of hope going into the second period.
That was confirmed a minute in when Stevie Hammell’s excellent cross into the box caused confusion amongst the home defence although no one in Claret and Amber could capitalise.
Down the other end, a couple of brilliant defensive headers from Simon Ramsden denied Panathinaikos as they looked to get a firm grip in the game. But just as it looked as if ‘Well had a great platform to build for the second period, it was Christodoulopoulos who would break Motherwell hearts with another free-kick.
Yet again it was another harsh free-kick given against the Steelmen – Shaun Hutchinson again on the end of another questionable call from the match official much like he was in the first leg. However, that shouldn’t overshadow the brilliance of Christodoulopoulos as he curled a belter of an effort from about 22-yards leaving a diving Randolph absolutely helpless.
There was a claim for a penalty from the hosts as Sissoko’s cross was blocked by a trailing arm of Adam Cummins. Although it did strike the youngsters hand as he slid to make the block, it was certainly more ball to hand from a close distance and the referee was right to way away the half-hearted protests.
Motherwell legs were starting to look heavy as the home side went up a gear. Toché thought he finally had his goal after getting on the end of a Sissoko cross but his downward header was expertly blocked by Randolph to keep it at 1-0.
Panathinaikos continued to push for more goals and Boumsong almost got on the end of another Christodoulopoulos’ free-kick but the former Rangers defender could only flick his header from the penalty spot high over the bar.
The heat was beginning to take a real toll on the Fir Park men prompting McCall to introduce Bob McHugh in place of Henrik Ojamaa.
It did little to stem the flow of Greek attacks with Sissoko firing a left-footed shot well wide of Randolph’s post.
It was only delaying the inevitable though as Panathinaikos doubled their advantage and it was once again déjà vu as substitute Charis Mavrias netted from a quick counter. Collecting from deep, he ran and ran, cut inside the tracking Hutchinson before slotting past Randolph.
With the game and the tie gone, McCall threw on both Zaine Francis-Angol and Michael Higdon and the latter almost brought about a decent chance but his duel with keeper Karnezis brought about a free-kick – a challenge that would no doubt be deemed reasonable in the SPL.
Heading towards the closing stages, Panathinaikos added an exclamation point to their victory with a third. An excellent through ball played Sissoko in. The Ivorian kept his cool to slot under Darren Randolph for a goal perhaps the midfielder deserved for his performances over the tie, but it was very harsh a battling ‘Well who had given everything.
[tab:As it happened]
Alan Burrows @ the Olympic Stadium
90mins – Full Time in Greece. Motherwell go out fighting.
Goal – Sissoko (82). The Ivorian adds a third, breaking clear and slotting under Darren Randolph. Harsh on ‘Well now!
80mims – Great defensive clock by Ramsden to deny a third. The former Bradford man has been excellent in both matches in this tie.
Well Subs: Higdon and Francis-Angol on for Daley and Cummins…
Goal Mavris (75). Its déjà vu for the Fir Park men as sub Charis Mavrias dribbles past the away defence to slot home.
‘Well sub: McHugh replaces Henrik Ojamaa. 20mins left to play!
Pana Sub: Mavrias and Katsouranis come on replacing Marinos and Toche…
63mins – Hutchinson booked for a trip on Lazarus…
60mins – Randolph saves brilliantly from Toche. Spaniard heads after a great Sissoko cross. Pana have stepped it up for sure!
57mins – Pen claim from Pana! Although it did hit Adam Cummins’ arm, he was only a yard away and the ref was right to deny…
Very harsh free-kick given against Hutchinson, not for the first time in this tie, certainly didn’t help matters. Harsh on the ‘Well!
Goal: Christodoulopoulos (50). Belter of a free-kick from the Pana skipper!
48mins – Couple of terrific defensive headers from Ramsden saves an almost certain goal!
46mins – ‘Well get us going again!
‘Well players making their way back on to the park for the second half! C’mon the STEELMEN!!
57% possession for the Steelmen during the first-half… Just need to convert that into real guilt-edged chances if we can!
HT Pana 0-0 ‘Well
32mins – Vital block from Cummins as Vyntra lines up a shot inside the area. Corner is headed wide by the same player just after…
31mins – Motherwell doing okay here… Pana look content to let us have the ball with the threat of going up a gear at any time. #COYW
27mins – Offt! Las almost opens the scoring for the Steelmen. Stinging effort from the edge of the area is palmed away by the keeper.
25mins – Looked as if Pana were lining up another dig from the edge but Nicky Law was there with a vital interception. Still 0-0 in Greece!
21mins – Toche has another half decent effort in front of goal but before he can get a touch he is stopped by the assistant’s flag.
Wifi is struggling now too! Seems it can happen in any stadium – even a 5 star one! Do our best via IPhone!
6mins – Pana back in attack… Corner is punched away really well by Randolph!
3mins – Seconds later, the same player should score with a great chance in front of goal but somehow puts it wide. Let off without doubt!
3mins – Pana have the first shot – Touche hits it straight into the arms of Randolph….
1min – Panathinaikos to get us underway here at the Olympic Stadium…
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“For three quarters of the tie – the game at Fir Park and the first half tonight – there’s nothing between the sides.
“It was cruel. But there is no need to pick the boys up mentally because there was a lot of good performances.
“We’ve been done by a free kick again. I thought that it was harsh. I doubt it would have been given in Scotland, because there’s no doubt Shaun Hutchinson won the ball. I heard the boy yelp from the sidelines and maybe that’s what decided it.
“The second goal was a classic counter-attack. We had good possession 10 yards outside their penalty box and the same scorer from last week broke away and did us again.
“And in the last 10-15 minutes the heat told.”
Panathinaikos manager Jesualdo Ferreira: