Motherwell Under 20s returned to winning ways with a hard-fought victory over St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park.
After back-to-back defeats by Rangers and Kilmarnock, the young Steelmen were desperate for the three points and they got them thanks to Liam Anderson, who scored after eighteen minutes of his first start of the season.
Both teams created chances, although ‘Well boss Jonatan Johansson will be scratching his head at how his team didn’t extend their lead after passing up numerous glorious chances as the game headed towards its conclusion.
The win was soured though with the sight of young Jack Leitch being stretchered off, leg in a brace, with what appeared to be a bad injury. He is due a scan in the next few days to assess the damage so hopefully it is not as serious as it looked.
‘Well made an astonishing eight changes to the team that lost to Kilmarnock last Tuesday with Nielsen, Watt, Ferguson, Cadden, McCall, Higgins, Thomas and MacLean dropping out, replaced by Stewart, McNulty, J.Leitch, Carswell, Erwin, Anderson, McHugh and Moore.
Both teams started the game with chances – Dylan Easton seeing his fifth minute shot deflect into the side netting courtesy of Morgyn Neill’s block. Down the other end, Lee Erwin went close with a stinging thirty-yard shot that whistled inches past the left hand upright.
There were howls from the visitor’s bench when Alex Kitchen appears to pull Craig Moore in the area, before going through the back of the striker to win the ball. Referee Mike Roncone had a good look at it, but decided no penalty.
Adam Morgan then let fly from distance for Saints before ‘Well got their noses in front.
Good hold up play by Moore allowed Erwin to slide in the supporting Liam Anderson. The winger took a good first touch, hared in on goal and kept his cool to slot it beyond Mark Hurst for his first of the campaign.
To their credit, Saints went immediately in search of a leveler and Easton saw another shot deflect wide for a corner.
Shortly after, from a corner, Jason Kerr was twice denied within the space of a second as both Jack McMillan and Jack Leitch headed his efforts off the line.
Helped by a stoppage to the game as referee Roncone pulled up and had to go off for some treatment, ‘Well weathered the storm and regrouped. Erwin headed a McNulty cross straight at Hurst before, three minutes later, linking with Moore only to spin and shoot over the bar.
It was back and fourth though and Saints again came within an inch of an equaliser. Morgan found himself clear of the ‘Well defence and was only denied by the outrushing Ross Stewart. The ball spun out to Easton whose goalbound effort was again headed off the line by the recovering McMillan.
For their part, Motherwell managed a couple of efforts before the break with Moore heading a McNulty cross wide before McHugh sent a skidding low effort crashing inches wide of target.
The second half was no older than one minute when Jack Leitch went down in agony. His screams alerted to something serious and Aileen Anderson and Adam Stokes, the Motherwell physiotherapists, were quickly onto the pitch. He wasn’t able to continue though and, with his leg in a brace, was stretchered off, replaced by Dom Thomas.
Motherwell went on to dominate for a 15-minute spell and should have extended their lead. Moore sent another McNulty cross wide of the post before Thomas’ shot looked to be heading for the corner, only to be blocked by the sliding Scott Wilson.
There was another moment of controversy to follow when Saints’ Easton was booked for simulation after a coming together in the area with Bob McHugh. On first look, it looked like a penalty for the hosts but the referee was having none of it, much to the annoyance of the small, but vocal, local support.
Both teams continued to trade chances though, Morgan sending a header straight at Stewart before Moore came close after getting on the end of Erwin’s head on, only to send his lobbed effort wide of target.
Saints keeper Hurst was certainly the busier of the two ‘keepers and he had to look smart to save a turn-and-shot from Moore and a low bouncing effort from McHugh.
He could only look on though as ‘Well came within an inch of securing the game on the 75th minute. McHugh, who enjoyed an excellent second half, took his side forward before crashing a curling effort off the base of the post. It spun out at speed towards substitute Chris Cadden who could only screw the rebound over the bar.
Motherwell continued to make all the chances though, McHugh again shot wide before being denied a certain goal after a last-ditch saving tackle inside the six-yard box by Matthew Buchanan.
Then, a minute later, ‘Well passed up another glorious chance when Anderson’s low cross was miscued by Cadden only to fall kindly for Thomas whose effort was somehow deflected wide for a corner.
From the resulting kick, Neill’s flicked header landed at the feet of Cadden who leathered a shot high and wide of target.
Somehow, the score remained at 1-0 despite a later run and shot from Easton that sailed high over the crossbar. It was a worth win for ‘Well, albeit Saints did have chances throughout the ninety minutes.
Johansson’s men now face a big SFA Youth Cup game this weekend away to Celtic on Sunday.
Motherwell: Stewart, McNulty, McMillan, Hall, Neill, Carswell, Leitch (Thomas – 50mins), Erwin (Cadden – 71mins), McHugh, Moore (McCall – 71mins), Anderson
Subs Not Used: Currie, Ferguson, MacLean, Higgins