Phil McGhee at Fir Park
Motherwell maintained their superb home form to move joint second top of the Scottish Premiership with a 2-0 win over Inverness Caley Thistle.
However, although Stuart McCall’s men might have won the first of three consecutive home games which could go a considerable way to securing a Europa Cup slot, the win over an impressive Inverness side wasn’t as comfortable as the scoreline might suggest.
Two goals midway through the first half from Lionel Ainsworth and John Sutton should have taken the sting out of Caley Thistle. However, the Highlanders showed little after-affects from their marathon League Cup Final and Gunnar Nielsen, back in goal for the injured Lee Hollis, was required to make a handful of smart saves.
After their ten day break following the game at Easter Road, Stevie Hammell and Stuart Carswell were fit enough for a starting place. And it was Hammell who provided the first chance after five minutes, whipping a low ball across the face of the goal with Sutton just failing to make contact.
Despite an exhausting 120 minutes and the disappointment of losing on penalties on Sunday, Caley made the more energetic start. And after having to deal with a couple of teasing crosses, Nielsen produced a fine save in 12 minutes, getting down to hold a well-struck volley from Billy McKay.
Indeed it was the home side which looked slow in the opening stages and Nielsen again came to the rescue six minutes later when the Faroese ‘keeper reacted superbly to smother a low snapshot from McKay.
The Caley ‘keeper was forced into his first save after 23 minutes. Hammell clipped the ball back towards the penalty spot where Ainsworth met in on the volley only to see Dean Brill bundle the ball round his post.
A minute later Brill was beaten as the same ‘Well pair combined for the opening goal. Hammell’s long diagonal pass found Ainsworth who hared towards goal before smashing the ball past the helpless ‘keeper for his ninth goal of the season.
Hammell was finding plenty of space on the left and in 33 minutes his cross was touched across goal by McFadden allowing the unmarked Sutton to stoop at the back post and nod home his 18th goal of the season and make it 2-0.
That forced Inverness to chase the game as the Fir Park players were more content to keep possession but, in reality, it took some dogged defending from Motherwell to maintain their two goal advantage.
Shortly after the break McFadden had a couple of efforts on goal. Firstly he dragged the ball between two defenders before floating the ball over the bar. Then, seconds later, he stretched to meet an Iain Vigurs cross but could only direct the ball over the bar.
Shaun Hutchison came within inches of making it 3-0 when his his header from an Ainsworth corner bounced on the wrong side of the post.
The ‘Well goal then had a double escape. McKay watched his shot from eight yards blocked superbly by Nielsen but when the ball rebounded to Greg Tansey his volley looked destined for the back of the net until Hutchison chested the ball on the goal line before clearing.
A long range effort from Vigurs floated past the post with Brill retreating to guard his goal line.
But Inverness still pushed for a goal that would bring them back into the game and Nielsen was again lively low at his post to hold a Graeme Shinnie drive.
With 16 minutes remaining and Inverness looking the more likley to score, and ‘Well determined to see out the game, Zaine Francis-Angol replaced McFadden.
While Motherwell were not at their best, it was a hard earned three points, making it a highly impressive 16 points from their last 6 home games, with Ross County next to visit Fir Park on Saturday.
[tab:As it happened]
Alastair Reilly at Fir Park
Big three points for The Steelmen. Not a great game but valuable points in the bag! #MFCvICTFC
FT: Motherwell 2 – 0 Inverness CT #MFCvICTFC
Not a cracker here to be honest. ‘Well took their chances when they came whereas ICT didn’t. #MFCvICTFC
2 minutes added on #MFCvICTFC
88mins: Ball drops nicely to Tansey on the edge of the box but his shot is sliced well over #MFCvICTFC
86mins: Another corner to ICT….Nielsen punches clear #MFCvICTFC
81mins: Corner to ICT…ref blows for a foul in ‘Well’s favour. #MFCvICTFC
73mins: Subs: McFadden off for Francis-Angol and for ICT, Watkins is on for Vincent #MFCvICTFC
71mins: Christie drags his shot inches past from 20 yards. Looked like it was heading in #MFCvICTFC
69mins: Carswell and Foran find their way into the ref’s book. #MFCvICTFC
65mins: Free-kick about 28 yards out is struck well over by McFadden #MFCvICTFC
64mins: Shinnie tests Nielsen with a powerful low shot from 25 yards. Gathers safely. #MFCvICTFC
61mins: Bit of a cheeky effort from Vigurs who spots Brill not that far off his line but attempts the 30 yard lob anyway. Not far wide
56mins: McFadden is played through by Hammell however its an awkward bounce and his shot goes well over #MFCvICTFC
53mins: A let off as desperate defending keeps ICT out!Bodies being thrown in front of every shot before Hutch clears off the line #MFCvICTFC
52mins: Corner to ‘Well….headed inches wide by Hutchinson! #MFCvICTFC
49mins: A bit closer there as McFadden meets a Vigurs cross with a good volley. Just over! #MFCvICTFC
48mins: Bit ambitious from McFadden as he tries to curl it in from range. Well over #MFCvICTFC
Half time sub for ICT, Christie on for Doran #MFCvICTFC
Steelmen back out and the second half is underway. #MFCvICTFC
ICT back on the field. Big 45 minutes coming up…. #MFCvICTFC
HT: Motherwell 2 – 0 Inverness CT #MFCvICTFC
33mins: SUTTON nods home Hammell’s delightful ball into the box. Was on a plate for him! Superb! 2-0 #MFCvICTFC
25mins: AINSWORTH burts clear of the ICT defence and finishes superbly from just inside the box, low past Brill! 1-0 #MFCvICTFC
24mins: Great effort from Ainsworth who connects superbly with Vigurs’ cross. Brill tips it wide! #MFCvICTFC
22mins: A decent run from McFadden ends when he pulls the trigger and can only sclaff it well wide from 18 yards. #MFCvICTFC
19mins: Another good chance for McKay who catches Raven’s ball on a half-volley. Again, Nielsen is on hand to deny #MFCvICTFC
12mins: Good save from Nielsen to deny McKay whose left footed volley from 16 yards looked troublesome #MFCvICTFC
11mins: Raven works his way down the right wing and gets a decent ball in. Nielsen gathers with ease, though #MFCvICTFC
6mins: Great chance for Sutton as Hammell flashes the ball across goal but he just can’t get enough on it to stick it in the net #MFCvICTFC
4mins: First shot on target for ICT. Tansey with the long range effort straight at Nielsen #MFCvICTFC
Game’s underway here at FP! #COYW #MFCvICTFC
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“We know we can play better and we’ve got to aim to be better.
“But it is a clean sheet – something we’ve not been good at of late – a win against rivals going for Europe and two really good goals.
“We were up against a good side and they showed why they’re up there and why they’ll be challenging until the end of the season
“I certainly don’t think we were at out best, but we’ve had lots of games this season when we’ve been the better team and not won, so we’ll accept that tonight.”
Inverness CT manager John Hughes:
“I felt we could’ve taken something out of it. I felt Motherwell scored against the run of play, but it was a great finish and a real lapse of concentration on our part.
“Their goalkeeper had two or three great saves. We had a chance in the second half we should’ve put it in the back of the net. We have to be more ruthless in our defending.
“In terms of effort, commitment and passing the ball, I couldn’t ask for any more from the boys.
“We just lacked that cutting edge in the final third and it was a real lapse of concentration to concede two goals.”