Phil McGhee at Fir Park
Motherwell edged out Inverness in a nervy ninety minutes that keeps the Steelmen within touching distance of second place.
It might have been a miserable Motherwell May evening but the Fir Park fans were celebrating before the kick-off looking forward to another European adventure in July.
However, despite the dream start of a John Sutton goal after four minutes and a Gary Warren own goal after the half hour mark, ‘Well failed to build on their first half lead.
And when Graeme Shinnie pulled one back ten minutes into the second half, the Fir Park crowd had to suffer a nervous closing stage as the home side clung on to their slender lead to make Sunday’s trip to Pittodrie worthwhile.
The weather and the second half performance, though, failed to dampen the spirit of the Motherwell fans who remained after the final whistle to celebrate another fabulous Premiership season as the players returned to the pitch for the final time.
The fans should have been celebrating a comfortable three points as the home side made the perfect start.
Warren lost out to Zaine Francis-Angol on the touchline before tripping Sutton as he dragged the ball into the six-yard box. Sutton then calmly swept the resultant spot kick away from Dean Brill to claim his 23rd league goal and put ‘Well in front.
Francis-Angol then wriggled clear in the box only to curl his shot over the bar as McCall’s men looked to dominate.
However, it was Inverness who then enjoyed the bulk of the possession although it was 23 minutes before they produced their first attempt at goal, Aaron Doran driving the ball over Lee Hollis’ bar.
Iain Vigurs had a free kick palmed away by Brill and when Lionel Ainsworth fired the ball across goal Shaun Hutchison leapt highest to head wide.
Then after 31 minutes and courtesy of an own goal, ‘Well doubled their lead. Iain Vigurs curled a corner into a packed box and as Hutchison and Sutton threatened the unfortunate Warren headed the ball high into his own net.
‘Well were out of luck five minutes later when the width of the cross bar saved Caley.
Francis-Angol laid the ball back into the path of Ainsworth whose measured side foot from 15 yards sent the ball crashing off the underside of the bar and deny him a 12th goal of the season. A third then would surely have killed off Inverness.
However, Motherwell looked comfortable on their two goal lead until ten minutes into the second half when Graeme Shinnie was allowed to run from the half way line before his trundling shot from 18-yards deflected off Stephen McManus to wrong foot Hollis to make it 2-1.
McCall immediately sent on Fraser Kerr for James McFadden to shore up the midfield.
As the rain lashed down and Caley sensed an equaliser, Hollis had to beat down a strike from Greg Tansey. The ‘keeper’s goal was then put under some sustained pressure as Warren headed narrowly past and Billy McKay fired into the side netting.
With twelve minutes remaining and his men hanging on, McCall made a double substitution bringing on the attack minded pairing of Henri Anier and Craig Moore.
But it was Inverness who looked more likely to score and a terrific Tansey free kick from 30 yards forced Hollis to block with his foot.
In a dramatic final minute John Hughes’ men were denied a deserved equaliser when Billy McKay nudged the ball past Hollis only to watch as it rebounded from the inside of the post and roll back across the goal line but stay out.
That was much to the relief of the ‘Well players and fans who thought that the three points and the chance to overtake Aberdeen for second spot had just slipped from their grasp.
[tab:As it happened]
Alastair Reilly at Fir Park
FT: Motherwell 2 – 1 Inverness CT. Three points which sets up a second place showdown at Pittodrie!!
Unbelievable! McKay hits the post and it rolls back into play!!
3 minutes added on.
90mins: Moore’s been slumped on the ground for the last minute after a tackle but ICT refuse to put the ball out.
88mins: Corner to ‘Well, opted to keep it in the corner but possession lost
85mins: An nervy last 5 minutes then…
84mins: Free-kick to ICT in a dangerous looking position…..Tansey denied by the feet of Hollis!!
81mins: Warren heads just over but the ref says he had fouled in the process anyway
79mins: Double ‘Well sub, Anier and Moore on for Francis-Angol and Ainsworth
76mins: Vigurs finds his way into the ref’s book. Booked.
75mins: ICT sub, Christie on for Watkins
67mins: A bit of a let off there as McKay breaks into the box but can only find the side-netting from 16 yards
65mins: ICT sub,Doran off for Williams
62mins: Warren should have made it 2-2. Deep free-kick into the box and he heads inches wide.
56mins: Free-kick about 25 yards out for ‘Well…..Sutton scoops it well over the bar.
55mins: Motherwell sub, McFadden off for Kerr.
54mins: GOAL! Shinnie pulls one back for ICT. Game on. 2-1
49mins: Corner to ICT……low ball in swept clear by Vigurs
McKay and Shinnie get the action back underway
Teams are back out…..ready for the second half. #MFCvICTFC
HT: Motherwell 2 – 0 Inverness CT
41mins: McFadden lays it off to Vigurs 25 yards out but he balloons his effort well into the Maxim Office Park Stand
37mins: Ainsworth crashes a shot off the bar after a teasing ball across from Francis-Angol finds him 12 yards out
35mins: Ainsworth’s ball into the box gives Brill something to think about. The ‘keeper opts to claw it away
31mins: An own goal from Warren by the looks of it, headed high into the net
30mins: Ainsworth’s cross is deflected wide. Corner….GGGOOOAAALll!!
29mins: Tremarco rises highest to meet a deep ball to the back post but his header lacks the power needed to trouble Hollis.
26mins: Lovely sliding challenge by McManus to clear from McKay as he raced through on goal
24mins: Good effort from McKay. From just inside the box on the left hand side, he curls it inches over the bar.
23mins: Vigurs takes the free-kick and Brill has to react quickly to tip it by the post.
22mins: Tansey booked for a foul on Hammell right on the edge of the box
20mins: Close one as McKay is ruled to be offside with only Hollis to beat.
11mins: Dogged defending from Hammell and McManus as they combine to stop Watkins cutting the ball back to McKay
10mins: Francis-Angol cuts in on his right foot, on his weaker side, it’s a decent effort but floats harmlessly over.
Plenty of colour on show in the “Bois” section! Superb vocal backing as well. “We’re all going on a European tour!”
6mins; Hollis races off his line to gather at the feet of Tansey
4mins: GOOOAAALLL!!!! Sutton slots it home from the spot. 1-0!
3mins: Tansey with what you’d call a tactical foul, impeding Reid as he looked to break away.
1min: First sign of intent from ‘Well.Francis-Angol curls in a great ball into a dangeroue area but no takers!
Vigurs and Lasley kick-off #COYW
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“Tonight wasn’t the prettiest but we got the job done and we got that little bit of luck at the end. I think we have merited that over the season.”
McCall added: “We have taken it to the last game, we are proud to be in Europe and the only downside is wee Craig Moore looks like he has tweaked his cartilage and will probably need that out.”
Inverness CT manager John Hughes:
“The full-back stopped a cross like a goalkeeper, so for me that’s a penalty. But we put enough into it, dominated the whole second half, had them right on the back foot, played with a little more hunger and desire.
“Everything I’m looking for from an Inverness team. We played with more purpose and pace in the second half.
“I felt we were the better team, especially in the second half, but goals win games and if we keep conceding like that, we’ll not win many.”