Phil McGhee at Fir Park
Motherwell showed great determination to stage a dramatic last gasp fight back and take all three points against Partick Thistle today.
But when Stephen McManus powered home his winning header four minutes from time, it not only erased the poor opening 30 minutes but rewarded the ‘Well players who never gave up hope of taking something from a game, despite trailing 3-2 with just six minutes remaining.
It also rewarded the 25 hardy ‘Well fans who battled against the elements on the Fir Park pitch, making it playable for the visit of Thistle. In the light of the injuries, which kept Simon Ramsden, Fraser Kerr and Lee Hollis sidelined, Stuart McCall perhaps secretly hoped for a postponement!
And with six minutes remaining and his side looking to drop three points, the ‘Well boss was most certainly wishing the game had been off.
The finale was in complete contract to most of the first half where both teams struggled to find any pattern to their game, ‘Well looked rusty and short of match practice after a three week lay-off.
After a couple of early chances for the home side, with Iain Vigurs firing over and James McFadden thumping a shot into a packed defence, Thistle sneaked into the lead after 38 minutes.
Former Fir Park loan player Karl Higginbotham, who had a terrific match, fed a pass to Chris Erskine who had time to turn and bury his shot in the corner of the net despite Gunnar Nielsen getting his hand to the ball.
Two minutes Prince Bauben was denied a second when his drive was blocked by Shaun Hutchison on the penalty spot.
Paul Gallagher in the Thistle goal had not been called into action but three minutes from half-time, he was picking the ball out of his net when ‘Well drew level with a bit of luck. Keith Lasley, shaking off a whack to his knee earlier in the match, cut in from the corner of the box and although his shot was on target, a wicked defection from Higginbotham carried the ball high over Gallagher and under his cross bar.
That lifted the home side and within minutes of the restart McFadden found Vigurs at the angle of the box but he curled his shot over the bar.
After 51 minutes McFadden was the provider as ‘Well took the lead. Taking a pass from Lionel Ainsworth the former Scotland star rolled the ball back across the box into the path of Ainsworth, whose controlled shot carried he ball high past Gallagher to make it 2-1.
Thistle had appeals for a penalty dismissed when Aaron Taylor-Sinclair’s shot rebounded from a ‘Well defender’s arm but the ref pointed to the spot after 65 minutes when Ainsworth sliding tackle caught Taylor-Sinclair. Higginbotham rejoiced in front of the East Stand as he confidently sent Nielsen the wrong way to level the scores at 2-2.
Higginbotham then seemed certain to come back to haunt his former employees after 72 minutes when he finished off a great solo run with an angled drive across the ‘keeper and into the far corner of the net to make it 3-2.
That should have been the winner for Thistle but rather than feeling sorry for themselves, the ‘Well players took the challenge to their opponents in the final 15 minutes.
Faddy, who showed some fabulous touches and superb fitness on a heavy pitch, came within inches of the equaliser but his turn and shot from six yards took a deflection on its way into the side netting. Gallagher then produced a great save to palm a thumping header from McManus over the cross bar.
Finally, with six minutes remaining, ‘Well grabbed a deserved equaliser when Ainsworth’s tempting cross found John Sutton rising to nod home his 12th goal of the season and set up a grandstand finish.
And two minutes from time, the comeback was complete. Stevie Hammell whipped a free kick just beyond the 6 yard box where McManus met the ball full on to powerfully head the ball beyond Gallagher to make it 4-3 and grab a hard earned three points.
[tab:As it happened]
Alastair Reilly at Fir Park
An incredible game here at Fir Park. A battle, and ‘Well showed great spirit to keep going and come back for the three points #MFCvPTFC
FT: Motherwell 4 – 3 Partick Thistle #MFCvPTFC
Balatoni heads over. 30 seconds left #MFCvPTFC
92mins: Free-kick to Thistle in a dangerous position #MFCvPTFC
3 minutes added on #MFCvPTFC
89mins: Motherwell sub, Ainsworth off for Lawson #MFCvPTFC
88mins: MCMANUS with a looping header over Gallagher. 4-3, unbelievable!! #MFCvPTFC
87mins: Free-kick from out wide……GGGOOOOOAAALLLLL!!!
84mins: It’s that man Sutton again with a monumental leap at the back post to power home Ainsworth’s cross 3-3 #MFCvPTFC
83mins: Partick’s final change, Higginbotham off for Craigen #MFCvPTFC
82mins: Bannigan booked for a shirt pull on Anier #MFCvPTFC
79mins: Partick Thistle sub, Elliot on for Erskine #MFCvPTFC
77mins: Partick Thistle sub, Doolan on for Taylor #MFCvPTFC
76mins: Motherwell sub, Anier on for Vigurs #MFCvPTFC
73mins: Great save from Gallagher to deny McManus’ volley from a corner! #MFCvPTFC
72mins: GOAL! Higginbotham makes it 3-2 with a mazy run and good finish from a tight angle #MFCvPTFC
66mins: Corner to ‘Well……Thistle break and Nielsen has to make the save from Erskine’s shot #MFCvPTFC
65mins: GOAL! Higginbotham makes it 2-2 from the spot #MFCvPTFC
64mins: Penalty! Ainsworth concedes it #MFCvPTFC
61mins: Fine stop from Nielsen at the feet of Bauben! Looked like the equaliser but he did well to make the block 5 yards out #MFCvPTFC
60mins: Thistle claim for handball in the ‘Well box. Was travelling at speed but looked (and sounded) like it hit Hammell’s chest #MFCvPTFC
58mins: Vigurs leaps well at the back post to connect with Ainsworth’s cross. Goes just past #MFCvPTFC
57mins: Carswell also enters the book for for a similar offence #MFCvPTFC
56mins: Balotoni correctly booked for a shirt pull on Ainsworth on the halfway line as ‘Well looked to break #MFCvPTFC
Ainsworth makes it 2-1 with a superb curling finish from just inside the box! McFadden the provider #MFCvPTFC
49mins: Decent build-up play leads to Vigurs getting some space on the left. Shoots, but it’s sliced well wide #MFCvPTFC
Second half is underway #COYW #MFCvPTFC
Teams are back out for the second half. #MFCvPTFC
HT: Motherwell 1 – 1 Partick Thistle #MFCvPTFC
2 minutes added on #MFCvPTFC
42mins: Lasley makes it 1-1. With nothing much on he struck it from 20 yards, Took a deflection over the keeper but they all count! 1-1
36mins: GOAL! Erskine opens the scoring! Had all the time in the world as the defence opened up and slotted home 0-1 #MFCvPTFC
26mins: Taylor gets the break of the ball and with options available, opts to go himself. Lasley does well to cover and tackle #MFCvPTFC
21mins: Ball falls to Lasley 20 yards out. His right footed strike finds the side netting. Close! #MFCvPTFC
13mins: Great battling from Sutton to get away from Balatoni. As he pulls the trigger, Mair gets across to block #MFCvPTFC
10mins: Lasley goes down under a heavy challenge from Higginbotham. He’s up, but limping #MFCvPTFC
6mins: Corner to Partick, won by Erskine. Higginbotham’s low delivery is dealt with by Ainsworth #MFCvPTFC
4mins: Vigurs comes close after getting on the end of Francis-Angol’s low ball in. Curls just over #MFCvPTFC
2mins: Early corner for The Steelmen….McFadden’s goalbound header cleared by Taylor #MFCvPTFC
That’s us underway here at FP!! #MFCvPTFC
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“When we went 2-1 up I thought we were back in it but the penalty gives them a boost before Higginbotham’s terrific third goal. They showed great character and so did we and the action was end to end.
“I stressed to the players that we might make the most of set-pieces and Sutton and McManus were terrific in the air for the last two goals.”
The match had been in doubt beforehand due to adverse weather and McCall admitted that with 10 minutes left he was wondering whether all the effort to get it played had been worth it.
He said: “In the end I was delighted with the victory, and the fact we got the game on, but we had a lot of heavy legs on a heavy pitch.
“We were a bit rusty at times and although it was not our best performance we kept going.”
Partick Thistle manager Alan Archibald:
“I thought we were worth at least a point, particularly the way we played in the second half.
“We dealt well all day with the Motherwell threat until the last five minutes but our Achilles heel came back to haunt us again.
“Kallum Higginbotham was outstanding in the second half and for us to score three goals at Fir Park, it should be enough to win the game as not many teams do that.”