Despite a decent showing, Motherwell lost 3-0 to a ruthless Real Betis at a rain-soaked Fir Park this afternoon.
In an empty stadium, the hosts saw plenty of the ball and created numerous chances, but the clinical tourists ran out comfortable winners thanks to goals from Rubén Castro Martín, Cedrick Mabwati and Vincenzo Rennella.
Stuart McCall was forced into several changes with key defensive players missing through injury. Stevie Hammell, Simon Ramsden, Craig Reid, Fraser Kerr and Zaine Francis-Angol were all sidelined with knocks and Stephen McManus sat it out for personal reasons.
That meant an unfamiliar back four of David Ferguson, Morgyn Neill, Adam Cummins and trialist Darren Barr, with Gunnar Nielsen playing behind them.
Josh Law, Stuart Carswell, Keith Lasley and Lionel Ainsworth made up the midfield with Bob McHugh and John Sutton spearheading the Steelmen attack.
Betis were at full strength with only Álvaro Vadillo the only recognisable name missing through injury and they started well; only a smart stop by Nielsen after four minutes denied Rubén Castro after he weaved his way through the ‘Well rearguard.
McHugh fired wide before Xavi Torres did likewise at the other end, with Neilsen relieved to watch his stinging effort cannon back off the advertising boards.
However, with their next attack, Julio Velázquez’s side took the lead. Rubén Castro was the creator and scorer, dancing past several challenges, after running from deep, before slotting it coolly past Nielsen from just inside the box.
As the half wore on, ‘Well certainly made a good fist of it. McHugh had the Steelmen’s first shot on target, well held by the experienced Dani Giménez.
The same player had another chance six minutes later but again dragged it wide before Ainsworth’s cross-cum-shot almost caught out the visiting goalkeeper but the swirling wind would take it just wide.
Betis showed good touches and were always comfortable in possession and they almost doubled their lead ten minutes from the break when Chuli curled a shot inches wide.
At the other end, McHugh again had a chance when a good ball had him in space just inside the area but, on the stretch, he could only force his effort inches over the crossbar.
‘Well introduced Jack Leitch at the interval and he almost made an immediate impact, fizzing a shot from twenty yards that went a yard over.
Former Liverpool wide man Daniel Pacheco had a shot comfortably held by Nielsen and Law thought he was in one-on-one with Dani only to be halted by the assistant’s flag.
Minutes later, Law turned provider to send McHugh in on goal but despite beating the out-rushing keeper to the loose ball, he wasn’t able to control and it spilled behind for a goal kick.
Play raged on with Motherwell looking likely, although Betis passed up a glorious chance when substitute Javier Matilla collected a neat cut back but somehow blazed over from six yards.
Motherwell could sense something from the match and McCall introduced more attacking firepower via Vigurs and Thomas, but unfortunately it would be Betis who would kill the game with a wonderful finish.
Half-time substitute Cedrick got on the ball on the right flank and, cutting in on his left foot, beat two players before rocketing a thunderbolt into the top corner leaving Nielsen completely helpless.
McCall introduced more youngsters but it was away side that would grab a third when Rennella broke clear of the defence and coolly lifted his effort over the diving Nielsen and into the net.
In the dying seconds, ‘Well again spurned a chance when sub Cadden’s cross from the right found McHugh but he could only lift his shot over the bar again.
It was a really good work out for McCall’s team. They played well for long spells, created chances but were punished by an experienced side that showed no mercy in the final third.
Motherwell: Nielsen, Cummins, Ferguson, Carswell, Barr, Neill (Leitch – 46mins), Ainsworth (Cadden – 80mins), McHugh, Sutton (Erwin – 46mins), Law (Vigurs – 70mins), Lasley (Thomas – 70mins)
Subs Not Used: Twardzik