Gavin McCafferty at the Kuban Stadium
A brave Motherwell side battled hard but went down 1-0 to Kuban Krasnodar in Russia to exit the UEFA Europa league.
The Lanarkshire side were relatively comfortable, without having seriously threatened to cut their 2-0 first-leg deficit, before McManus headed into his own net five minutes into the second half.
Motherwell, who were without three key attacking players, had the perfect chance to level in the final minute after Djibril Cissè handled Stevie Hammell’s free-kick but substitute McHugh saw his effort saved.
Their small band of fans at least had something to celebrate earlier when Gunnar Nielsen marked his debut with an excellent 75th-minute penalty save from Charles Kaborè.
With a six-and-a-half-hour flight after the game, Motherwell manager Stuart McCall took the bold decision to leave key attacking players James McFadden, John Sutton and Iain Vigurs in Scotland to prevent them aggravating muscle injuries ahead of Sunday’s SPFL Premiership clash with Aberdeen.
McCall insisted he was not being defeatist and the decision allowed him to pick a team more suited to tracking and pressing the opposition.
Full-backs Fraser Kerr and Zaine Francis-Angol came in on the flanks of Motherwell’s five-man midfield with the energetic Stuart Carswell in the middle, while the hard-working Henri Anier would be asked to plough the lone furrow up front.
About 50 Motherwell fans who had overcome the visa and travel difficulties were treated to some pre-match Cossack sword-fighting and dancing as the hosts marked their home European debut in style.
The scale of Motherwell’s task was highlighted by the fact Kuban have not been beaten in the Russian Premier League since November last year, but the visitors made a composed start.
The home side only made sporadic bursts forward in the opening quarter. David Tsoraev looped a header over following Ibrahima Balde’s clipped cross and Kabore charged into the box and cut the ball back but Anton Sosnin could not keep his volley down.
Motherwell almost got in behind the hosts twice with Francis-Angol threatening to break clear until he was caught up, before Anier’s driven cross was deflected just wide after he pounced on a short header back.
Balde almost got through on goal three times from Kabore balls but Motherwell survived each time and Nielsen made his first save in the 36th minute when he got down to hold Balde’s long-range strike.
Kuban pushed Motherwell back for longer spells as the half progressed but Nielsen was not troubled again.
It was so far so good for McCall’s plan to keep it tight and try to steal the opening goal before throwing everything forward in the final stages, but a decent start to the second half was punctured by McManus’s misjudgement.
Left-back Roman Bugaev sent over a cross into the six-yard box but there was little apparent danger and McManus, facing his goal and under little pressure, headed straight into the top corner as he tried to clear over the bar. In defence of the defender, the ball was dropping at an awkward angle and it was obvious he was trying to scoop his header over the crossbar.
Nielsen soon produced an excellent one-handed save to push away a 25-yard strike by Marcos Urena and then held Balde’s curling effort as the hosts stepped up a gear.
But Motherwell threatened when Kerr got round the outside following Paul Lawson’s diagonal ball and crossed for Anier, who turned his man but was closed down as he shot, before Keith Lasley saw his follow-up shot charged down.
McCall made a double switch with 20 minutes left but there was no change in tactics as McHugh replaced Anier and Adam Cummins came into the midfield anchor role for Lawson.
Nielsen got his chance to shine when Hutchinson caught Balde after some quick feet from the Senegal striker. Kabore hit the penalty low and hard to the right of Nielsen but the Faroe Islands international got down quickly and produced a strong hand to push the ball away.
Motherwell then looked set to end their European adventure on a further high but Aleksandr Belenov dived to his left to push away McHugh’s powerful spot-kick to make it seven consecutive European games without a goal for the Steelmen.
Despite the defeat, McCall and his squad will no doubt take positives from the performance into Sunday’s clash with the Dons.
[tab:As it happened]
Alan Burrows at the Kuban Stadium
FT: Kuban 1 – 0 Motherwell. Own goal on the 50th minute by McManus splits the teams. Both teams miss penalties via Kabore and McHugh.
90mins: Missed by McHugh… Great save frmo Belenov to be fair. Still 1-0 Kuban and Motherwell’s Euro goal drought continues 🙁
90mins: Penalty for Motherwell!
83mins: Hammell booked for a trip at the edge of the box. Free-kick to the home side.
82mins: Kuban introduce young Bezlikhotnov is on, Tsoraev is the man off.
78mins: It’s Craig Moore’s top team debut for the Steelmen tonight too. Deserves it for how hard he has worked!
78mins: Last sub for the Steelmen. Skipper Keith Lasley is off and is replaced by Craig Moore.
75mins: Sub for Kuban. Balde is coming off and is replaced by Djibril Cisse…
72mins: Penalty for Kuban..; Hutchinson fouls Balde inside the box. Kabore to take! Saved by Gunnar Nielsen (who has been brilliant tonight). Low to his right, the big stopper gets down brilliantly well.
70mins: They will replace Anier (who has ran his backside off) and Paul Lawson who has given everything!
70mins: Motherwell are going to make a couple of changes. McHugh and Cummins ready to come on for the visitors.
66mins: Good chance passed up by ‘Well. Kerr cross finds Anier in the box. He turns ‘Well and should tee up Lasley but shot is blocked.
65mins: Official attendance for tonight’s match is announced as 31,000…
64mins: Sub Zhavnerchik gets his first real touch but sends a low shot way wide of goal…
60mins: Sub for Kuban – Zhavnerchik comes on in place of the impressive Urena. 1-0 to Kuban…
58mins: Another good save by Nielsen, this time from Balde low to his right. Big stopper has looked very solid indeed…
55mins: Motherwell have a half decent look at goal. Carswell collects 30 yards out but his strike goes over the bar. Still 1-0 Kuban here.
54mins: Another long range hit from Kuban – midfielder Kabore trying his luck again but it was way wide…
51mins: What a fantastic save by Gunnar Nielsen. The big GK at full stretch to turn a Urena piledriver over the crossbar.
50mins: It was Bugaev’s super cross from the left. The big defender was caught in two minds in front of the ‘keeper. Really sore on ‘Well…
GOAL Krasnodar! Own goal from Stephen McManus (who has been fantastic too). 1-0 to the Russians.
46mins: Motherwell get the second half going… Good luck to the lads and #COYW
HT: Teams are out… Motherwell will get this second half underway Doesn’t look like any changes for the second half.
HT: You’d imagine the manager will keep it the same for a time in the second half then really go for it last half hour or so…
HT: Kuban Krasnodar 0 – 0 Motherwell. Steelmen have battled well. Not really been troubled too much to be honest.
40mins: Resulting free-kick is taken by Balde but it’s poor, sailing way over the bar. Still 0-0 here in Russia…
39mins: Lawson gives the ball away in the middle of the park. Kabore picks up but is fouled by Hutchinson. Defender goes into the book.
35mins: Kuban get their first real shot on target, Balde’s low effort is routine for the big goalkeeper to clutch low to his right.
33mins: At the other end, Kuban have had a lot in and around the box but Gunnar not had too much to do. Hopefully that continues for the GK.
32mins: About thirteen minutes to the break. Motherwell doing okay here. Very much in the game but not really causing home side problems.
24mins: A long-range shot from Urena looked troubling at first but it ends up high and wide of Nielsen’s post…
22mins: It’s end to end stuff at the moment. Balde put in with another good ball. His attempted shot was blocked well by Hutchinson. Corner.
20mins: Anier bursts into the box. He looks to cut it back but it hits Bugaev and smashes into the side net. Corner Motherwell!
19mins: Another wee half sight from Kuban – Tsoraev fires a shot from about 30 yards but it sails high over the bar. No trouble for Nielsen.
17mins: Almost immediately, Kuban are almost in through Balde but he takes a heavy touch and Nielsen is out to smother.
16mins: Our first real venture up the park. Anier plays in ZFA but he was caught just as he was about to pull the trigger… Frustrating.
16mins: On the park, Kuban enjoying most of the ball. ‘Well defence and midfield just about holding it together at the moment…
15mins: Attention distracted here in the press box by perhaps the biggest mosquito you can imagine. More like a Seagull 😮 #hide
13mins: Good chance for Kuban to take the lead. Neat play on the left flank. Kabore’s cut back to Sosnin is good but he blazes over…
11mins: Motherwell doing okay at the moment. Keeping hold of the ball fairly well. Not really causing the home side any problems though.
7mins: First half chance of the match drops to Kuban. Balde’s cross towards the back post is headed over by Tsoraev…
3mins: Both teams trading possession – nothing much of note thus far. Home fans are in good form. Yellow and Green is the chant (apparently)
1mins: Kuban kick-off, shooting right to left (towards ‘Well fans) when you look from the camera side…
Teams are out – photos taken and Las and Belenov now exchange gifts before we get going… Looks like it’s the home side to kick off!
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“I was proud of them. It was a good effort. I have watched them four times and I watched them on Sunday against Spartak (Moscow), and they are a really good side.
“They are talking about (Ibrahima) Balde going for £10-11million and the boy in the middle (Charles Kabore) for £7-8m.
“The focus was the game, to get to half-time and be in the game and then, if we can get ahead, start thinking about the tie.
“Their opportunities came from two or three of our errors, they didn’t really cut us open. I have seen them cut some really good teams open.
“Then they got the goal and we rocked for about five minutes but we battled away and it would have been the icing on the cake if we had scored at the end.
“Bob’s disappointed and Mick (McManus) is disappointed but they have no need — people miss penalties and score own goals. It’s part of football.”
FC Kuban manager Dorinel Munteanu:
“It is worth noting that this was the fourth match in a very difficult run of games.
“So we had to give it much consideration and treat the opponents with respect. The opposing team had some chances may have wished to use them, so we started the game very carefully. Basically, trying not to give your opponent a chance.
“Motherwell could have scored from the penalty spot themselves, but that did not happen.
“Nevertheless, we should not belittle the level of the opponent. Still, this is a team that finished second in the championship after Scotland’s Celtic, the team is quite a decent level so you had to play and rigorously fulfill the task – to pass to the next round.
“In the next stage, we will see even more serious contender, we will prepare for it.”