Josh Law scored twice in the first 19 minutes but ‘Well were pegged back by two penalties in a 2-2 draw against Icelandic side Stjarnan.
Law’s double had ‘Well in a commanding position but when Keith Lasley was penalised for handball in the box 10 minutes before half time, Finsen reduced the deficit at the break.
Both sides could and perhaps should have added to the scoring, before Lasley once again fell foul of the Danish referee with seconds remaining to balance the tie on a knife-edge ahead of next week’s second leg in Iceland.
It was a real test of fitness for Stuart McCall’s side in their first competitive match since clinching second place on the final day of last season, to earn tonight’s tie. The Lanarkshire sunshine made Fir Park feel more like Belo Horizonte than Motherwell, adding to the European feel for the game.
Dan Twardzik retained his place in goal, with a familiar defensive line up of Stevie Hammell, Stephen McManus, Simon Ramsden and Craig Reid in front of him. Josh Law was the only new face in the starting line up, assisting John Sutton in the attack. They were both ably assisted by Keith Lasley, Iain Vigurs and Lionel Ainsworth, with Stuart Carswell scavenging for every available loose ball.
From the get go, Motherwell used the right wing to carve out opportunities, with Ainsworth and Reid keen to begin the game at pace. However, it was the Icelandic side who almost took the lead in the third minute.
A fast break down the right looked to have petered out when the crossed ball in evaded everyone in the box. However, Finsen kept the ball alive though and flashed a ball in to the six yard area which the unmarked Veigar Pall Gunnarsson headed agonisingly wide in front of the 22-man travelling support.
It was a big let off for ‘Well in the opening stages, but soon the hosts got a foothold on the game, with Reid, Lasley and Ainsworth all earning corners from deflected efforts. The early pressure paid off in the ninth minute as Josh Law opened the scoring on his debut.
An attack down the right found Lasley at the edge of the box. His lofted ball in was headed goal ward by John Sutton, but instead of trapping the ball, Stjarnan ‘keeper Ingvar Jonsson pushed the ball on to the toe of Law who prodded in from a yard out.
An instant impact, much like his brother Nicky had made at Fir Park previously, Josh had not only netted the first goal of the tie, but Motherwell’s first European goal since Tom Hateley’s last minute free kick in Odense in 2010. While not as spectacular as Hateley’s set piece, it was an early marker for the home side to build on.
With their tails up, the Fir Parkers searched for a second, with Lasley looking lively in the box after linking up with Law just moments after the goal. Only a last ditch block prevented the skipper from doubling the lead.
The second goal wasn’t far away though, as Law netted his second of the game in the 19th minute.
A slip on the left by Nicklas Vemmelund allowed Iain Vigurs to advance to the edge of the box. With Sutton to his left, he opted to pass between two Stjarnan defenders, picking out the run of Law, who dinked the ball deftly over Jonsson and in to the net.
Two goals to the good, the hosts were in full control and should have added to their tally as the half wore on. A corner on the right bounced around before the ball fell to Stuart Carswell on the edge of the area but he blazed over.
Had it gone in, Motherwell would no doubt have been on easy street, but the game turned in the 35th minute when the referee awarded the visitors a penalty.
A ball from the left was fizzed in to the box and awkwardly struck Lasley on the upper arm as he tried to get out of its path. The referee pointed to the spot and booked the ‘Well skipper to little complaint from his teammates. Olafur Karl Finsen stepped up and sent Twardzik the wrong way to halve the deficit and make the Well’s grip on the game a little looser.
John Sutton almost gave the perfect reply, when Lasley and Hammell combined down the left to tee up last season’s top scorer inside the box. The power and poise was there, but somehow, Sutton’s finish flashed just last the post.
Up the other end, Twardzik did well to keep out Finsen on a three on three break away, saving well with his legs as Stjarnan looked to level just before the half time whistle.
The second half started similarly to the first, with the home side making all the running down the right, but it took a while for the first chance of note to materialise. It came when Jonsson had to react well to a Law volley to prevent the former Alfreton Town man from grabbing a hat trick on his first start.
While the ‘Well looked good going forward, they were almost picked off at the other end when Finsen was picked out in the box from Bjorgvinsson’s cross, it looked certain that the Icelanders would level but the hosts escaped.
As the game swung from end to end, Vigurs had the ball in the net after a neat one-two with Law at the edge of the box, but the offside flag ruled the well worked strike out.
Fraser Kerr and Lee Erwin soon replaced Lionel Ainsworth and goalscorer Law as McCall looked to freshen things, but it was Finsen once more for Stjarnan who was next to threaten.
The tricky number 17 went on a diagonal run from left to right, unleashing a shot back across goal which thankfully whistled past Twardzik’s right hand post.
As the game reached the 90th minute, Motherwell appealed in vain for a penalty when Simon Ramsden looked to be taken down as he swung at a lose ball eight yards from goal. Play raged on though as the decision was not given by the referee.
He did however award a second penalty to the Icelanders in stoppage time, a stramash in front of goal saw Lasley adjudged to have pulled sub Toft down during the melee. Finsen duly sent Twardzik the wrong way again, to secure a 2-2 draw in the latest of fashions.
It was a bitter and unfortunate pill for the home side to swallow. It’s all to play for in Iceland next Thursday.
[tab:As it happened]
Alastair Reilly at Fir Park
FT: Motherwell 2 – 2 Stjarnan
GOAL! A sickener as Finsen sends Twardzik the wrong way to make it 2-2
91mins: Another Stjarnan penalty!
4 minutes added on…
88mins: Stjarnan sub, Toft on for Gunnarsson.
85mins: Erwin looking busy on his debut. He’s unlucky to see his snapshot from 25 yards drift just over.
83mins: Good stop from Twardzik to deny Bjorgvinsson who had cut inside from the right
79mins: Great cross in from Hammell finds the head of Erwin but he’s stretching and can only head just over.
77mins: Lasley is denied by the foot of Jonsson after he shot from Vigurs’ slid through pass. A great chance!
74mins: Finsen drags a good effort just past the post from a narrow angle.
73mins: Looks a bad one, but he’s only off temporarily by the looks of it.
71mins: Corner to ‘Well, ball breaks to Reidy who takes a sore one to the face. Play has stopped for treatment.
69mins: Motherwell subs, Ainsworth and Law off for Erwin and Kerr
64mins: Now Præst is booked for a cruncher on Vigurs
63mins: Ainsworth swings the ball in from the left to the head of Sutton but he can’t quite get enough on it to trouble Jonsson
61mins: Arnason gets a yellow for a bodycheck on Ainsworth.
59mins: Vigurs has the ball in the net but linesman put his flag up too early, ruling Sutton offside, Vigurs was onside
57mins: Up the other end, Finsen passes up a glorious opportunity, slicing his volley just past when a goal looked certain.
As the ball drops to McManus he gets plenty on his volley but Jonsson is equal to it and makes a good stop.
55mins: Præst heads Vigurs’ inviting ball in out for a corner.
52mins: Ainsworth shoots from range but it’s held up in the turf and trickles into the hands of Jonsson.
It’s clipped in to the back post but Arnason heads clear ahead of Ramsden
47mins: Vigurs wins a free-kick in a decent area. 35 yards out, central….
Punyed and Gunnarsson get the second half underway.
HT: Motherwell 2 – 1 Stjarnan
43mins: Ramsden is booked for a late tackle on Michael Præst
42mins: ‘Well are cut open and only the foot of Twardzik denies Bjorgvinsson!
39mins: Finsen almost sneaks in as he rounds Twardzik but Reid is there to cover with an important interception
37mins: Almost an immediate reply. Great effort from Sutton on his left foot after Lasley cut it to the edge of the box
35mins: GOAL! Finsen slots it home. 2-1. A penalty from nowhere, ref says Lasley handled….
Penalty to Stjarnan!
33mins: Bit ambitious from Vigurs as he attempts a right footed volley after some keepy-uppies. Well over.
30mins: free-kick to Stjarnan about 35 yards out…..Gunnarson shoots well over.
28mins: Great chance for Carswell just inside the box but he was leaning back and his shot blazes over the bar!
25mins: Corner to Motherwell…..safely gathered by Jonsson.
Lovely play from Vigurs who dispossessed Vemmelund and clipped it to Law who finished with a delicious chip over Jonsson!! 2-0
It’s that man JOSH LAW again!!!!!
16mins: Great covering slide tackle from Carswell as Gunnarsson looked to break. Vital.
14mins: Lasley finds some space on the edge of the box but his shot is blocked by Rauschenberg
A goal in Europe….feels good, eh? :p
JOSH LAW breaks the deadlock!! A tap-in after Sutton’s header was saved by Jonsson. 1-0!!
8mins: Reid’s cross is deflected just over the bar, From the corner……GGGOOOOAAALLLLLLL!!
..McManus is judged to have fouled Rauschenberg.
6mins: Up the other end, it’s another ‘Well corner…
5mins: What a let off! Gunnarsson somehow heads wide from 6 yards out!
3mins: Craig Reid wins ‘Well a corner…but Vemmelund heads clear.
Formalities over, it’s time to get down to business. Lasley and Sutton kick the action off. ‘Mon the ‘Well!! #MFCvSFC
Counting down the minutes to kick-off on a great night for football. It’s lovely here at Fir Park.
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“Where we’ve been unfortunate is that both penalties have come from unbelievable ricochets and deflections back into the box.
“They could’ve gone one up quite easily and missed a good chance. Then we took control of the game and played some really good football.
“At 2-0, we’re looking to go and add to that. In the second half they’ve had good chances and so have we.
“But listen, it’s our first competitive game and I think you could tell that we’re rusty in a lot of areas.”
Stjarnan manager Runar Pall Sigmunsson