Phil McGhee at Rugby Park
Motherwell returned to winning ways with a comfortable victory at Kilmarnock and moved up to third in the table.
Second half goals from John Sutton and Henri Anier sealed the points but it was a good performance from back to front from Stuart McCall’s men.
The only criticism would be that the win could have been more emphatic. Indeed, Craig Moore making his first league start, might have grabbed a hat-trick inside the opening 22 minutes as ‘Well dominated the early proceedings.
Despite the two week international break, injuries still kept Simon Ramsden, Stevie Hammell and Stuart Carswell sidelined, the latter two starting on the bench. Shaun Hutchinson, though, returned from suspension to bolster the back four.
Second bottom Kilmarnock were chasing a third consecutive home win and with striker Kris Boyd boosted by his Scotland call-up, the understrength Fir Park defence should have faced a difficult afternoon.
Anier after his midweek exertions with Estonia also started on the bench allowing Craig Moore to start, partnering John Sutton in attack.
And the ‘Well youngster almost made it a dream start after six minutes when he latched onto a loose ball in the home box only to curl his shot over Craig Samson and the ‘keeper’s cross bar.
Motherwell’s passing and pressing game, with the both fullbacks pushing forward, gave the home defence some anxious moments.
In the 16th minute a terrific run from Zaine Francis-Angol carried him to the goal line before sweeping the ball into the six yard box. Sutton’s effort was blocked but the ball rebounded to Moore who slashed his shot wide of goal.
Then after 22 minutes the teenage striker passed up his third and best chance. Paul Lawson’s long pass bounced past Mark O’Hara allowing Moore to race in on goal unchallenged but he lacked a bit of composure as he dragged his shot across Samson and inches past the post
‘Well almost paid for that miss when Boyd tried to dribble the ball towards Gunnar Nielsen but Hutchison and Stephen McManus combined to block him as the Killie man looked certain to strike.
‘Well were in control and the Killie fans largely subdued and eight minutes from half-time only Samson’s reflexes denied the visitors a deserved lead. Kerr burst down the right before drilling in a perfect cross for Sutton whose powerful header was racing under the bar until the Kille keeper stretched to push it over.
Nielsen was finally called into action three minutes from half-time. Boyd’s angled drive looked destined for the far far corner until the ‘Well keeper, at full stretch low to his left palmed the ball out.
Probably frustrated that their possession and chances hadn’t been converted into goals, Stuart McCall made one change at the interval replacing James McFadden with Lionel Ainsworth.
And his introduction almost had an immediate effect as Moore held off Manny Pascali before setting up the substitute with a cute back-healer only to watch Ainsworth screw his shot wide of goal from 12 yards.
Even the home fans sensed that a Motherwell goal was long overdue and it finally arrived after 53 minutes.
Francis-Angol sent Ainsworth down the right and although his ball across goal found no takers, Iain Vigurs returned it from the left side finding Sutton stooping to head the ball low past Samson from six yards.
That produced an immediate response from Killie and a thundering 20 yard drive from Michael Gardyne forced another fabulous one handed stop from Nielsen.
A deflected Clingan shot almost bounced inside thepost as the home fans sensed a fight back. Boyd failed to test Nielsen as Killie had their best spell of the game, but ‘Well remained tight and commanding at the back.
Moore, who proved to be a real handful for the experienced Pascali, was given a rousing ovation from the travelling support after a thoroughly committed and encouraging 78 minutes.
Anier, who came off the bench to claim two goals for Estonia in midweek was eager for something similar but it was Sutton who came within a metre of grabbing his second when he connected solidly with Ainsworth’s cross sending the ball dipping just over the bar.
But with three minutes to go Anier claimed his goal using his strength to turn O’Hara before slipping the ball under Samson to tie up the points and round off a great day’s work for the Fir Park men.
[tab:As it happened]
Ally Reilly at Rugby Park
FT: Kilmarnock 0 – 2 Motherwell
88mins: Anier does fantastically to spin past O’Hara and poke the ball past Samson to make it 2-0!!!
85mins: Final Killie change, Winchester on for Clingan
81mins: Killie sub, Gros on for Gardyne
81mins: Good work from Kerr to get down the right wing and swing in a ball. It’s awkward for Sutton but he gets a shot away. Just over.
79mins: Gardyne booked for leaving a boot in on Lasley.
78mins: Motherwell sub, Moore off for Anier.
78mins: Lawson booked for tumbling into Johnston
77mins: Pascali’s header is straight at Nielsen from the Killie corner. Should have done better.
75mins: Sub McKenzie cuts in from the left and lets fly. Just past the right hand post
72mins: Killie sub, McKenzie on for Nicholson
67mins: Pascali booked for hacking down Moore. Good position for the FK…..Vigurs shoots just over
65mins: Boyd passes up a great chance to level. Perhaps the cross was a fraction deep for him and he headed over from 6 yards
60mins: Francis-Angol’s cross slithers under Samson for a corner. From that Hutchinson heads wide.
55mins: Almost the equaliser! Nielsen reacts well to deny Boyd with a strong hand then Slater’s cross flashes across goal with no takers!
54mins: Sutton opens the scoring with a slow motion diving header!!! Vigurs with the assist!! 0-1
49mins: Motherwell counter and from Moore’s backheel, Ainsworth can only drag his shot wide of the left post. Good chance
48mins: Johnston tries his luck from 25 yards but shoots straight at Nielsen.
Half-time sub, McFadden off for Ainsworth
HT: Kilmarnock 0 – 0 Motherwell
42mins: Good save from Nielsen to deny Boyd on his left foot from a narrow angle. Francis-Angol mops up.
41mins: Moore wins a corner after his shot is deflected wide…..McFadden delivers but Nicholson clears
38mins: Glorious chance for Sutton! Gets a powerful header on target but Samson is equal to it and palms over!
31mins: Boyd gets the break of the ball in the box and as he looks to pull the trigger, McManus and Lawson do enough to put him off.
24mins: Gardyne wins Killie a free-kick 25 yards out, central. Clingan gets it over the wall, but it also clears the bar. Still 0-0
22mins: Third good chance of the day for Moore! O’Hara slipped and let him in 1v1. Dragged it just wide with his weaker foot!
17mins: Another corner to ‘Well after Lawson’s volley was deflected wide.
15mins: Another good chance as the ball falls to Moore from Franci-Angols cross which evaded Sutton. Youngster slices it wide.
12mins: McFadden curls in a ball first time from the right. Vigurs can’t quite get enough on it to get it on target.
10mins: Francis-Angol wins the first corner of the game… McFadden’s delivery is hooked clear by Gardyne
6mins: Great tenacity from Moore to battle and win the ball to create a shooting opportunity. Just over from 16 yards!!
3mins: Johnstone wins a free-kick 30 yards out in a crossable position. And from that, Pascali heads straight at Nielsen from Clingan’s delivery
1min: Boyd and O’Hara get the game underway. #kfcvmfc
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“We set up to play in a slightly different way and after taking a little while to settle we got into a good pattern. The full-backs got high and wide and got some really good balls in.
“We were disappointed to come in at half-time and not be ahead. But we had a clean sheet and a really strong, positive performance.
“Sometimes when you miss chances it comes back to haunt you. Thankfully that wasn’t the case and Henri’s goal put the icing on the cake.
“The last four games, even though we beat Hibs, we have not performed at a great level. Today we were back more like ourselves. We were strong and resolute when we needed to be and also played some good football.”
Kilmarnock manager Allan Johnston:
“When you look at the performance, I don’t think it merited a 2-0 defeat. But how many times can we keep saying the same thing?
“We created a few good chances but teams don’t need to work hard to score against us and that’s been a problem since we came in.
“There were loads of mistakes for the first goal. It came from our corner. They have got one striker up the park and we have two back and he manages to hold the ball in.
“Then the ball gets played across the face of goal, comes out the other side and comes back in again and Sutton is still standing by himself, and we have three or four players round about him. It’s just basic defending, you pick someone up.
“And the second goal we just got bullied. It’s very poor defending.”