Phil McGhee at Fir Park
An understrength, patched up Motherwell started the new league campaign with a hard earned 1-0 victory over St Mirren.
And despite Saints having the bulk of the play, it was a dream league debut from Lee Erwin whose goal midway through the second half gave Stuart McCall’s men all three points.
While Erwin might have earned the man of the match for his winning goal it was Dan Twardzik, on his second domestic debut, who denied Saints a share of the points blocking numerous attempts on the home goal.
Injuries to Simon Ramsden and Stevie Hammell forced the novel pairing of Fraser Kerr with Stephen McManus at the heart of an understrength defence. Zaine Francis-Angol and Craig Reid both passed late fitness tests to take their place at fullback. While at the other end, John Sutton was partnered with Erwin for the first time.
Not surprisingly, St Mirren, under new manager Tommy Craig, made a furious and direct start to test a nervous looking home side.
However, after surviving a series of crosses from Gregg Wylde it was ‘Well who had the first strike on goal. On his SPFL debut, Josh Law was eager to add to his two Euro goals but his shot was straight at Marian Kello.
At the other end Twardzik had to react quickly to nip the ball off the toes of Callum Ball at the edge of the ‘keeper’s six yard box. As Saints continued to press, Twardzik was the busiest player blocking a couple of efforts from James Marwood before palming a stinging John McGinn drive over his crossbar.
As the first half progressed, Motherwell became more organised and comfortable on the ball and an in-swinging corner from Lionel Ainsworth was headed off the line by Kenny McLean.
A cross from Ainsworth was chested down by Erwin allowing Stuart Carswell to drive a low shot which Kello got down to block.
Another smart exchange at the edge of the box finished with Sutton playing in Law but his curling effort was well saved by the Saints ‘keeper.
That spirited spell from ‘Well before half-time, though, was forgotten as Saints made a blistering start to the second forty-five.
Within a minute Wylde had raced away from the home defence only to watch his angled drive touched beyond the post by Twardzik at full stretch.
The ‘Well ‘keeper then had to deal with two thumping shots from Ball as the Buddies came closer to an opener.
Instead, though, it was the Fir Parkers who snatched the lead after 64 minutes.
Ainsworth unleashed a powerful drive from 25 yards, which Kello leapt to beat out, but Erwin reacted swiftly to stab the ball between the keeper and his left hand post for his first senior goal for the club.
It was Twardzik to the recue again when the keeper punched out a fierce McLean drive.
Saints hopes for an equaliser were dented 16 minutes from time when they were reduced to ten men after Jim Goodwin was shown a second yellow card by referee Calum Murray for an off the ball incident.
To their credit the Paisley side continued to push forward but Erwin came close to a rounding off a very impressive 90 minutes with a second goal, curling a 20 yard free kick over the cross bar.
[tab:As it happened]
Alastair Reilly at Fir Park
FT: Motherwell 1 – 0 St Mirren
90+2mins: McAusland booked for throwing the ball away in frustration
3 minutes added on.
89mins: Motherwell sub, Law off for Leitch
88mins: Another great save from Twardzik, this time to deny Caldwell from the edge of the box
83mins: Free-kick in a decent area for ‘Well. Erwin curls it just over the bar.
82mins: Penalty shouts for Saints after the ball looked like it might have hit a ‘Well hand. Ref waves it away.
80mins: Tesselaar wins Saints a corner, which Sutton heads clear. Still 1-0
76mins: St Mirren sub, Ball off for Caldwell
73mins: Red card! Goodwin receives a second yellow, presumably for dissent.
72mins: Ball AGAIN has a great chance but fires well over the bar from close range!
66mins: Good chance for ‘Well there! Ainsworth got into a good area on the wing and cut it back to Erwin who couldn’t get it under control
64mins: Ainsworth’s shot is palmed straight back to Erwin who pokes it home from 8 yards on his first start for the club!
LEE ERWIN MAKES IT 1-0!!
57mins: Another St Mirren chance. Again, Marwood shoots straight at Twardzik. St Mirren should be a few up but for poor finishing.
50mins: Ball should have burst the net for Saints but yet again it is fired straight at Twardzik. Saints have came flying. out the traps
46mins: Great save from Twardzik to tip Wylde’s shot past the post. Looked a certain goal!
Second half is underway #MFCvSMFC
HT: Motherwell 0 – 0 St Mirren
44mins: Wylde gets plenty of space again in behind the ‘Well defence but again, shoots straight at Twardzik.
43mins: Ainsworth tries to work some space inside the box and manages to get a shot away but it’s sliced well wide from 15 yards.
40mins: Ball falls to Law just outside the box. He tries to place his shot but Kello makes a comfortable save.
33mins: Didn’t look the best challenge there from Goodwin on Lasley. Not unlike the challenge he was booked for earlier
30mins: Booking: McManus is booked for obstruction on Naismith as he looked to sprint past him.
25mins: Ainsworth’s ball in is chested down by Erwin to Carswell. He shoots, but it’s straight at Kello. Bit more positive now.
24mins: Francis-Angol wins ‘Well’s first corner of the game…McManus is inches away from connecting with it at the back post!
23mins: Booking: Goodwin flies into a challenge on Erwin and enters the ref’s book.
20mins: Another good save from Twardzik, this time low at the feet of Wylde. St Mirren well on top here,
17mins: Corner to Saints after Twardzik does well to tip McGinn’s effort over the bar.
15mins: Ball gets his head to Wylde’s cross from then left but it’s not enough to trouble Twardzik. Routine save from 12 yards
9mins: McLean whips in a great cross from the right which Kerr tried to intercept. He missed it and the ball thankfully sneaked just past
7mins: Half a chance there for Saints as a quickly taken free-kick almost falls for Ball in the box but its scrambled away to safety by Dan
3mins: Law pounces on a flick on and from the edge of the box opts to shoot. Doesn’t have the power to test Kello.
2mins: Good spell of pressure for Saints. Wylde has seen a lot of the ball wide on the left, just lacking the final ball.
1min: Marwood and Ball get the action underway. COYW!
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“We had a lot of quality missing and we’ve not replaced the three lads we lost at the end of last season (James McFadden, Henri Anier and Shaun Hutchinson).
“I wouldn’t be making excuses if we lost, but I can say it now we won. It’s been a tough week and three of the lads who started hadn’t trained since the Stjarnan game. “Did we deserve to win? Probably not. “But, because of what we have gone through during the week, we said to them that the important thing was the result.
“We lacked a little bit of quality in certain areas but things will get easier in the coming weeks, when some of the injuries clear up and we get new faces in.
“I wouldn’t say it was a case of smash and grab. There were a lot of our players under par but you have to dig in and find a way. “And it was a terrific debut from Lee Erwin. I’m really pleased he scored the goal and he looked dangerous all day.”
St Mirren manager Tommy Craig:
“Can anyone tell me how we lost that game? If I was going to ask my team how to perform in the next game, I would ask them to give a repeat of that.
“For the majority of the game we dominated. I could cut my tongue out, because I said beforehand how good Motherwell are at getting results when they are not playing so well.
“Stuart has done this over the last three or four years, and you have to say well done. That’s what we need. To go with our performance, we need that resilience to carve out a result.
“My beef with St Mirren for a long time has been that they don’t normally win games they don’t deserve to win. Motherwell showed that determination and resilience to hang in.
“If we can add to what we were trying to do with passing the ball, then we will be fine. The players proved they are right behind me. They looked like a team and I’m enthusiastic and excited about the season ahead. I want supporters to enjoy what they are seeing.”