Kris Jack at Fir Park
Motherwell fell to a heavy 0-4 defeat to Hibernian in a game shrouded by controversial refereeing decisions.
A fine strike from David Wotherspoon had put the visitors ahead, before ‘Well had a perfectly good Steven Hammell goal disallowed.
The officials would baffle the home fans further, awarding three controversial penalties in the second half, two of which were converted by Leigh Griffiths for the Hibees, either side of Michael Higdon’s spot kicking hitting the bar.
Danny Handling finished the scoring deep in injury time to wrap up a win which puts Pat Fenlon’s side five points clear of the Steelmen, as a disappointing night in front of goal and equally disappointing officiating confined Stuart McCall’s side to a third successive scoreless defeat in the SPL.
The Motherwell manager was forced in to making one change from the side that fell to Hearts at Tynecastle last Sunday, with Henrik Ojamaa coming in to the attack in place of Shaun Hutchinson who hobbled off in Gorgie. Fraser Kerr moved in to centre back from right back, with Tom Hateley dropping back in to right side of defence.
Former ‘Well man Tim Clancy came in at right back for the Hibees in Pat Fenlon’s only change from his side’s loss to Ross County last time out.
The game started in quick-fire fashion as expected, with the Steelmen passing up the first opportunity to open the scoring. Neat interplay between Keith Lasley and Henrik Ojamaa resulted in the Estonian sending Jamie Murphy in on goal but Hibs keeper Ben Williams came to the aid of his defence to block at Murphy’s feet.
The visitors then had their best chance of the opening exchanges when defender Paul Hanlon rose highest at a corner but his header went wide. It didn’t go out of play however, and as Leigh Griffiths drilled the ball back across goal, Hanlon’s flick went just past the far post.
Griffiths then had an effort of his own after beating Kerr out on the left hand side; he cut to the edge of the box before dragging his shot wide of Randolph’s goal.
Motherwell replied with a ball over the top which sent Chris Humphrey in on goal, but as Williams advanced to the edge of his box, the Jamaican couldn’t quite poke the ball goalwards and the chance was gone.
Stevie Hammell then had an effort from distance blocked out for a corner, as the crowd sensed a goal was coming. It did eventually come on 28 minutes, but unfortunately for the hosts, it was for Hibernian, against the run of play.
Eoin Doyle found space on the left hand side before playing in Paul Cairney. The former Partick man turned Kerr brilliantly before laying it off for David Wotherspoon 20 yards out. The midfielder looked up and crashed an effort beyond the diving Darren Randolph to give Hibs the lead. It was a fine strike at an opportune time for the visitors, which gave McCall’s men something to respond to, to get back in to the game.
On 36 minutes, they thought they had found that response.
Humphrey jinked past Ryan McGivern to get to the by-line before standing up a cross to the back post. It was over Michael Higdon, but Stevie Hammell was behind to bullet a header downwards on target. As Williams dived to claw the ball out, the ‘Well players ran away in celebration, claiming the ball had crossed the line. However, neither referee Stevie O’Reilly nor his assistant was willing to give the goal.
Replays afterward suggested that the ball indeed had crossed the line, but in game time, the linesman had failed to spot it, incensing the home support. The hosts didn’t let it faze them though as the half came to a conclusion, as they got on with the game, to try and salvage a legitimate goal before the break.
Murphy had an effort from just outside the box which bounced over the dive of Williams, and wide of the goal, before Higdon fired over from the penalty spot, after Ojamaa had broken free on the left of the box.
The second period started as the first had, with both sides trading chances. Griffiths almost capitalised on a defensive blunder by Fraser Kerr but Randolph closed him down quickly preventing a clear sight at goal. Humphrey then cut in from the right on to his left foot, but drove a low shot in to the side netting, as ‘Well strived for a leveller.
Nicky Law and Keith Lasley then tried a clever training ground free kick routine at the edge of the box, but Law’s effort sailed just over the Hibs’ bar. Humphrey then should have levelled after Murphy cut to the by-line, past Clancy, to put a ball in to the corridor of uncertainty. The ball missed Ojamaa and Higdon, before landing at the feet of Humphrey but his shot flew high in the Davie Cooper Stand instead of the net.
It was a chance that the Steelmen would rue, as referee O’Reilly took centre stage, awarding three highly questionable penalty kicks in a sixteen minute spell, as the game was turned on its head.
Firstly, Griffiths got the better of Kerr at the edge of the box, and while running away from goal, Randolph stood his ground to usher the ball out of play. However, as both players leaned in to one another and fell to the ground, O’Reilly, at least 30 yards behind the incident, adjudged that the Irish keeper had fouled the Hibs striker, awarding the penalty and booking the goalie.
Griffiths coolly blasted the ball right in to the bottom left corner to double his side’s lead, as the home fans booed the referee’s decision. On 70 minutes though, O’Reilly looked to have given Motherwell a lifeline, when James McPake clambered over the back of Michael Higdon in the box to give away a penalty. It was a challenge that the Hibs skipper had got away with all night against Higdon, but on this occasion, it was deemed illegal.
Higdon himself placed the ball, only to blast his kick from 12 yards off the top of the bar, maintaining the visitors’ two goal advantage. It would get worse for ‘Well just minutes later, when the referee awarded the third penalty of the night.
Wotherspoon came in from the right and as he approached the box, Stevie Hammell slid in to win the ball a yard outside the penalty area. The Hibs’ man’s momentum led to him falling inside the box, and to the amazement of most in the ground, O’Reilly pointed to the spot again. As the hosts protested, Griffiths collected the ball and blasted home the penalty to make it 0-3.
The match was delayed shortly after as Mr O’Reilly exited the game through injury, to be replaced by Iain Brines and as the game ticked in to the seventh minute of time added on for the delay, Hibs’ sub Danny Handling tapped in a fourth, after Wotherspoon had weaved his way through the home defence.
By that time though, the game had already been put to bed as a competition due to missed chances from the hosts and a somewhat frustrating performance from the officials.
[tab:As it happened]
Alastair Reilly at Fir Park
FULL TIME: Motherwell 0-4 Hibernian.
90mins: GOAL; Handling heaps on more misery as Hibs go 4-0 up.
90mins: Hibs sub: Cairney off for Handling.
89mins: Strange strange night. Fans streaming out the exits as we hit the 89th minute.
86mins: Hibs sub: Giffiths off for Stevenson.
85mins: Motherwell sub: Law off for Carswell.
83mins: Griffiths jinks into the box and tests Randolph from a narrow angle. Corner to Hibs which comes to nothing.
82mins: Game back underway.
78mins: Slight delay to the action….the ref is being subbed off. Take from that what you will….
77mins: Motherwell sub- Higdon off for McHugh.
72mins: Griffiths scores the pen. 3-0 Hibs
72mins: Now it’s a penalty for Hibs!
71mins: MISSED PENALTY: Higdon blazes over the bar from the spot.
70mins: McPake climbing all over Higon and ref correctly give the pen.
68mins: Good spell of pressure from Motherwell as they look for a way back into this. Penalty looked soft to say the least.
66mins: Motherwell and Hibs subs: Daley on for Ojamaa and Clancy off for Maybury.
62mins: GOAL, Griffiths coverts penalty.
Penalty for Hibs!
60mins: Surely a goal is coming! Murphy got to the byline and swung it low across goal. No takers!
56mins: Free-kick in a dangerous position for Motherwell. Free-kick is well worked but Law’s effort is just a fraction over the bar.
50mins: Thought that was a goal! Humphrey did well down the right and cut in on his left foot. Drilled into the side-netting.
47mins: Decent first chance of the half for Hibs. Griffiths only had to pull the trigger from 10 yards but ball wouldn’t sit up for him.
45mins: Players back out for the second half. Come on Motherwell!
HT: Terrible decision from the linesman denied ‘Well a certain goal but can’t dwell on that. Need to use that injustice to spur us on.
HALF-TIME: Motherwell 0 -1 Hibernian
39mins: Should have been the equalizer. Ojamaa skins Clancy and tee’s up Higdon. Blazes over from 12 yards.
37mins: Booking for Cairney for a tackle from behind.
32mins: Ball looked at least a yard over the line!
32mins: Controversy! Hammell has a goalbound header cleared off the line. Was it over?
26mins: GOAL!…Wotherspoon opens the scoring with a stunning strike from 20 yards.
……clips it back across goal. Headed clear by McPake as a goal looked inevitable.
20mins: Ohhhhhh, glorious opportunity. Ball was pining about the box but just wouldn’t fall kindly. Eventually comes to Humphrey who…
16mins: Griffiths goes too close for comfort! He beat Kerr on the wing and darted into the box. His shot from 15yards was just past.
11mins: Higdon given a telling off by the ref. Looked like a 50/50 ball…both players commited to the challenge.
8mins: Safety first for Kerr as he hooks clear to give Hibs a corner….Hanlon’s back heel goes inches wide! A let off.
5mins: Great chance! Ojamaa lays off the onrushing Murphy who shoots on the angle from 8 yards. Williams saves with his feet.
1min: Griffiths and Doyle kick off The Steelmen v The Hibees #COYW
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“Everything that could’ve gone against us tonight certainly did. Key decisions have cost us tonight but also the lack of ability to take chances.
“I can’t believe we’ve played 90 minutes and not scored with the decent opportunities we’ve had.
“First half, I thought we played well enough and created lots of chances. Obviously, we know now that the ball was a yard-and-a-half over the line. We didn’t get it and sometimes games are decided on things like that. In the second half we came out and with the Leigh Griffiths penalty, running away from goal, I haven’t seen it again to be honest.
“They go 2-0 up and we get a penalty. We miss it and they go up the park and Hammell’s challenge is probably a foot outside the box; even if it is a free-kick. So, everything that could go against us did do.
“Key decisions have cost us but also the lack of ability to take chances. We’ve played some great stuff and put balls across the box and had opportunities.
“It was a decent end-to-end game and I can’t believe we’ve played 90 minutes and not scored with the decent opportunities we’ve had.”
Hibernian manager Pat Fenlon:
“According to some of our players, some of the decisions may have gone for us.
“But I’m delighted for the players. I haven’t seen it yet [the Hammell header]. It looked like a good save from our point of view, but we should be talking about our first goal as well because it was fantastic.
“There was some good football in the game as well. I know, obviously, there will be talk about what went on with some of the decisions but there was good football from both sides too.
“Leigh is a handful up front and he’s that type of player who can play with somebody but he can also play on his own.”