Gavin McCafferty at Tannadice
Motherwell turned in a poor performance to lose 5-1 to Dundee United at Tannadice this afternoon.
A disjointed Steelmen were run ragged at times and only briefly looked like mounting a comeback after a half-time reshuffle before Stuart Armstrong, the provider of both of Nadir Çiftçi’s first-half goals, ran through the heart of the visiting defence to kill off the game in the 61st minute.
Ryan Dow and substitute Brian Graham took United’s tally for the season against Motherwell to 14 as the fourth-placed hosts cut the deficit to four points with three matches to play.
Motherwell could have clinched European football at Tannadice but it proved to be a day to forget for Steven Hammell, who wore the captain’s armband on his 500th appearance for the club, with Lionel Ainsworth’s late goal proving scant consolation.
Çiftçi took just eight minutes to open his account when he started and finished a tremendous move. The striker played a first-time lay-off to Armstrong on the right wing, just inside the Motherwell half. The midfielder beat a man and returned the ball to Çiftçi, who turned inside Stephen McManus and arrowed a shot into the top corner from the edge of the box.
Armstrong then cleared after Fraser Kerr cut the ball across the face of goal but that was as much as Motherwell threatened in the first half.
United, who rested teenagers Ryan Gauld and John Souttar from the start, were soon back on the attack as Çiftçi played a defence-splitting pass to release Paul Paton. The midfielder lifted the ball over Gunnar Nielsen but McManus got back to head clear.
United were causing a lot of problems with their pace and movement and Armstrong set Çiftçi clear again, but Nielsen came out to make a brilliant save.
The Faroese keeper then turned away a 25-yard strike from Gary Mackay-Steven, who almost went clean through moments later after cutting inside Shaun Hutchinson – but Keith Lasley brought him down right on the edge of the box and happily took a yellow card.
Motherwell’s best hope was to keep it to one before a half-time reorganisation but they were cut open again five minutes before the break.
Centre-back Hutchinson lost out to Mackay-Steven next to the left touchline on the halfway line and United quickly exploited the space. The winger cut inside and switched play to Armstrong, whose instant cross was swept home first-time by Çiftçi from 16 yards.
There was no surprise when Stuart McCall made two changes at half-time, bringing off Kerr and Henri Anier and putting on winger Ainsworth and forward Craig Moore and moving Iain Vigurs out left in a more orthodox midfield set-up.
They had two early chances but both Lasley and Ainsworth blasted over from 12 yards and United then cut the visitors open again.
Ryan Dow flicked the ball through for Armstrong to run through the middle, hold off Hutchinson and shoot into the roof of the net.
Çiftçi soon fired against the outside of the post after Motherwell escaped a penalty when McManus appeared to catch Dow.
United went further ahead in the 72nd minute when Dow had all the time he needed and more to chest down Gavin Gunning’s diagonal cross and fire the ball into the far corner from eight yards.
They netted again in the 81st minute when Andy Robertson threaded another ball straight through the middle for Graham to slide the ball underneath Nielsen, before Ainsworth grabbed a consolation with a deflected shot from 18 yards with three minutes left.
It was a miserable afternoon for the Fir Parkers, who now have two home games against St Johnstone and Inverness to shape their season, before a last-day fixture at Pittodrie.
[tab:As it happened]
Ally Reilly at Tannadice
FT: Dundee Utd 5 – 1 Motherwell #DUFCvMFC
1 minute added on #DUFCvMFC
89mins: McManus booked for pulling Dow to the ground #DUFCvMFC
87mins: GOAL! Ainsworth pulls one back for ‘Well with a deflected long range drive #DUFCvMFC
85mins: Leitch booked for hacking down Dow on the halfway line #DUFCvMFC
80mins: GOAL! Graham adds to a miserable day by making it 5-0 #DUFCvMFC
76mins: Motherwell sub, Francis-Angol on for Vigurs #DUFCvMFC
73mins: Dundee Utd sub, Armstrong off for Gomis #DUFCvMFC
71mins: GOAL! Dow makes it 4-0. All too easy as he finds space inside the box and slots past Nielsen #DUFCvMFC
Also, Paton off for Gauld #DUFCvMFC
69mins: Dundee Utd sub, Graham on for Ciftci #DUFCvMFC
65mins: Another great save from Nielsen! Tips Ciftci’spowerful angled drive onto the post #DUFCvMFC
60mins: GOAL! Armstrong makes it 3-0, showing great pace to break from midfield and finishin high into the net #DUFCvMFC
56mins: Hammell does well to track back and concede a corner from Mackay-Steven #DUFCvMFC
51mins: Almost identical chance for Ainsworth there! Same outcome, left footed shot just over the bar. #DUFCvMFC
49mins: Glorious chance for Lasley as he finds space 12 yards out. On his left foot, he fires just over! #DUFCvMFC
46mins: Almost the perfect start, Cierzniak having to pounce at the feet of Vigurs straight from kick-off #DUFCvMFC
Lasley and Leitch get the second half underway. Big performance needed! #DUFCvMFC
Half-time subs for ‘Well, Anier and Kerr off for Moore and Ainsworth #DUFCvMFC
HT: Dundee Utd 2 – 0 Motherwell #DUFCvMFC
40mins: GOAL! Ciftci puts Utd 2 up. A counter attack with an easy finish from 8 yards #DUFCvMFC
39mins: Anier wins ‘Well their first corner of the game….Cierzniak plucks it out the air ahead of Sutton #DUFCvMFC
37mins: Another corner to Utd..falls to Armstrong who swings it back in for Ciftci to head straight at Nielsen #DUFCvMFC
Ciftci curls it into the wall #DUFCvMFC
28mins: Free-kick in a great position for Utd. Lasley takes a yellow to deny Mackay-Steven #DUFCvMFC
24mins: And again he has to be lively to tip and long-range Mackay-Steven drive past the post #DUFCvMFC
22mins: Fantastic block from Nielsen to deny Ciftci who only had to find a corner. Big stopper spread himself well. #DUFCvMFC
19mins: Just doesn’t quite fall for Sutton who had latched onto Hutchinson’s clipped ball over the top #DUFCvMFC
14mins: Utd counter and as Paton finds himself 1v1, he clips it over Nielsen. McManus recovered though to poke it out for a corner #DUFCvMFC
13mins: Good chance as Kerr weaves into the box but his cut-back is intercepted as Anier was waiting to pounce #DUFCvMFC
8mins: GOAL! Ciftci opens the scoring with the first attack of the game.It’s a good finish from just inside the box, into the top corner 1-0
5mins: Hammell whips in a ball from the left but Kerr never looked like troubling Cierzniak with his header from 12 yards #DUFCvMFC
4mins: Corner to Utd, McManus partially clears and on the edge of the box, gunning scoops it over the bar #DUFCvMFC
Dow and Ciftci get the action underway #DUFCvMFC
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“I will sum it up as briefly as I can – they were very, very good and we were very, very poor.
“They have had the measure of us this season and their strengths have been on the counter-attack.
“If you look at the first three goals, one was from a corner from us and the other two, we had the ball on the edge of their 18-yard box, and they break with such pace and desire.”
Dundee Utd assistant manager Jackie McNamara:
“That’s the most pleasing thing for us as coaches, we look for a response. We were really disappointed last week and I think the boys felt it as well.
“The gaffer had a collective meeting with them on Monday and we have worked really hard this week, and it has culminated in a great response today.
“We were all hurting after last week, it wasn’t acceptable, but the response was brilliant.”