Phil McGhee at Pittodrie
A Lionel Ainsworth goal saw ‘Well leapfrog Aberdeen as they climbed into second spot in the Scottish Premiership with a 1-0 win.
The on-loan Rotherham winger netted early in the second half of a game and although the home side had a lot of possession for long stages, they found a ‘Well defence in mean form.
The Dons had been forced into a change of formation in the absence of a recognised left-back, lining up 3-4-3 with Johnny Hayes coming in on the left of midfield to replace Mark Reynolds, who had started in the full-back position in the 4-3 win at Inverness.
Motherwell continued with on-loan goalkeeper Dan Twardzik in goal, the Dundee man having moved to Fir Park after injuries to regular keepers Gunnar Nielsen and Lee Hollis.
McCall made two changes to the side that beat St Mirren 3-0. Stephen McManus missed out with an ankle injury and was replaced by Fraser Kerr, while Paul Lawson took the place of Iain Vigurs in midfield.
After an even opening period, the Dons could have taken the lead when Niall McGinn popped up on the right to send in a cross for Hayes, who threw himself at the ball but who could only head wide of the target.
John Sutton was forced from the field twice in the opening quarter after a clash of heads with Joe Shaughnessy, the initial treatment the big striker received not quite having stemmed the flow of blood, with stitches eventually required.
That allowed the Dons an advantage, but Stuart McCall’s side did a fine job of containing them and forcing them into shots from distance.
Indeed, it was nearly the half-hour mark before Twardzik was forced into serious action, and even then it was a comfortable hold from McGinn’s 20-yard effort.
The Steelmen were always a threat, though, and when Michael Hector’s burst up the pitch left Aberdeen short at the back, Jamie Langfield did well to hold onto Lawson’s long-range effort.
The best chance of the half fell to McGinn in injury time, the striker sent clear by Peter Pawlett and rounding Twardzik, only to see the Czech react well to save his effort.
But just four minutes after the restart, it was the visitors who took the lead following an incisive counter-attack.
Estonian striker Henri Anier broke following a Dons corner, and with the equally pacy Ainsworth providing support, they had the Dons caught two-on-one.
The sole man back, Hayes, did not know whether to stick or twist, eventually moving to block off Anier who calmly squared for Ainsworth to stroke home for the second time in as many games.
Aberdeen responded, and when Ryan Jack slipped in Pawlett, the midfielder went down after a coming together with Kerr. It looked rather innocuous, but it led to furious claims, all of which were waved away by the referee, though, and Russell Anderson picked up a booking for dissent in the aftermath.
It also sparked a reaction from the home support who were suddenly loudly behind their team, roaring for every decision and urging their side forward.
And their support was almost rewarded when Shaughnessy popped up on the edge of the area to send a left-foot volley off the outside of the post from 20 yards.
The home side changed formation, but were almost caught by another counter, Twardzik’s clearance finding Anier who was denied only by a desperate block from Shaughnessy.
That would be the striker’s last involvement, as he was replaced in attack by Craig Moore.
Trading changes, the Dons brought on Josh Magennis for Shaughnessy, before Motherwell’s Zaine Fracis-Angol took the place of Ainsworth.
Aberdeen’s last throw of the dice saw them replace Scott Vernon and the injured Barry Robson with Craig Murray and Calvin Zola after 84 minutes.
The visitors battled for every scrap, but they had a scare deep into injury time when the crowd thought McGinn had levelled matters with a free-kick which had in fact only hit the side-netting.
It’s a super three points for the Steelmen who now face another tough test against Partick Thistle at Firhill on Sunday.
[tab:As it happened]
Ally Reilly at Pittodrie
FULL TIME!! Aberdeen 0 – 1 Motherwell #afcvmfc
92mins: Corner to Aberdeen….’Well clear but again when Moore is fouled, Aberdeen get the free-kick! #afcvmfc
91mins: Moore booked for being pushed over. Ref says he dived…. #afcvmfc
90mins: 4 minutes added on..#afcvmfc
89mins: Close! Pawlett heads inches past in the dying minutes #afcvmfc
84mins: Aberdeen subs, Murray and Zola on for Robson and Vernon #afcvmfc
83mins: Pawlett slices well wide from inside the box with only Twardzik to beat. Lawson booked in the process. #afcvmfc
82mins: Corner to Aberdeen…..gathered by Twardzik #afcvmfc
75mins: Into the last fifteen and McGinn has just passed up another good chance at the back post. Blasts over from 12 yards #afcvmfc
70mins: Motherwell sub, Francis-Angol on for the goalscorer, Lionel Ainsworth #afcvmfc
69mins: Aberdeen sub, Magennis on for Shaughnessy #afcvmfc
65mins: Motherwell sub, Anier off for Moore #afcvmfc
63mins: Excellent chance for Anier again on the counter. Just can’t quite get his shot away and the Dons sweep clear #afcvmfc
58mins: Shaughnessy strikes one off the post! #afcvmfc
56mins: Free-kick right on the edge of the ‘Well box….Lawson sweeps clear #afcvmfc
54mins: Withstanding a wee bit of pressure here. Half hearted penalty claims waved away by the ref #afcvmfc
48mins: ‘Well counter from a Dons corner and AINSWORTH pokes home Anier’s cutback! 0-1 #afcvmfc
Second half underway #afcvmfc
Teams are back out. #afcvmfc
HT: Aberdeen 0 – 0 Motherwell #afcvmfc
43mins: Corner to Motherwell….Lawson’s delivery flashes across goal and Hutchy is inches away from connecting #afcvmfc
37mins: Lawson stings Langfield’s palms with an ambitious 28 yards strike. #afcvmfc
33mins: Dangerous free-kick for Aberdeen…McGinn bends it just wide. Dons fans though it was in. #afcvmfc
30mins: Great chance for a counter attack there but Anier seems a bit impatient and needlessly strays well offside #afcvmfc
26mins: Sutton loses his footing at the vital second as he latched onto Lasley’s reverse pass. Wee half chance #afcvmfc
23mins: Robson finds a bit of space in midfield and gets a shot away from 25 yards. Well wide though #afcvmfc
17mins: Corner to ‘Well…….cleared by The Dons. Sutton heads down the tunnel for treatment on a cut #afcvmfc
13mins: Hayes passes up a glorious opportunity! McGinn swung it and from 8 yards his diving header goes wide #afcvmfc
3mins: Corner to Aberdeen….Twardzik has to be sharp and punch clear at his front post #afcvmfc
2mins: Aberdeen have a FK out wide but Robson’s inswinger has no takers. #afcvmfc
McGinn and Vernon kick-off #afcvmfc
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“We had a hard couple of weeks after going out of the cup and lesser teams would have crumbled after what had happened.
“But I said at the time that we have some good strong characters in the dressing room and those are the times you have to stand up and be counted.
“We were getting flak, which was rightly deserved at the time, but those are the times you have to show a bit of steel and character.
“It gets a monkey off our back in terms of having not beaten a side in the top six this season. It’s a good boost to come and take three points from what is a difficult place to come to.
Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes:
“There’s no shame in losing to Motherwell. They’re a good team and you don’t always get what you deserve.
“We lost a really untidy goal which gave Motherwell something to hold on to and, from that perspective, it feels a bit smash-and-grab.”