Phil McGhee at Rugby Park
Goals from Lionel Ainsworth and Marvin Johnson either side of half-time made it a perfect start to the new season for the Steelmen.
However, having been in control for most of the game, the Fir Park men survived a frantic finale after Martin Wilson pulled a goal back for Kilmarnock.
‘Well kicked off the new SPFL season with four players; Richard Tait, Ben Heneghan, Craig Clay and Carl McHugh, making their league debut in claret and Amber. And they made major contributions as the visitors made a confident start.
With a holding four in midfield, Lionel Ainsworth was deployed through the middle to support lone striker Scott McDonald.
And with Kilmarnock boasting half a dozen new faces in their line-up, the opening exchanges found both sides trying to find their feet and new teammates on the artificial surface.
The first chance came ‘Well’s way after seven minutes when prompted by McDonald’s through ball Chris Cadden wriggled into the box but his left foot finish lacked any power.
Just 12 minutes into the new season Killie boss Lee Clarke was sent to the stand by Craig Thompson just in time to watch a speedy break from Ainsworth set up the unmarked McDonald but he volleyed the ball into the pitch and wide of target.
Marvin Johnson then had a couple of attempts at goal the first a scorching left foot drive which skimmed narrowly over the bar before he curled a 20 yard free kick wide of Jamie MacDonald’s goal.
While Motherwell had the bulk of the play in the opening half hour the only threat to their goal came from a Steven Smith free kick which Craig Samson, on his first return to Rugby Park, was happy to watch sail over his cross bar.
In the 38th minute the Fir Park side almost sneaked the lead with what would have been a bit of a fluke. Clay’s close in drive was on target until it was blocked by Gary Dicker in front of his ‘keeper but the rebound ricocheted off the ‘Well midfielder and was racing over the line until MacDonald made an incredible reflex save – surely one of the stops of the season already.
There was nothing fortunate when the ‘Well goal did arrive 90 seconds later though. McDonald sent Ainsworth racing towards the box and with the delicate of touches he lifted the ball over the advancing MacDonald and under the ‘keeper’s bar for a quality finish.
A minute later and with ‘Well pressing for a second Ainsworth found Johnson on the left and his low angled drive was blocked by the ‘keeper’s legs.
However, within 20 seconds of the restart Johnson made it 2-0 nodding home Richard Tait’s cross to claim his fourth goal of the season and put Mark McGhee’s men in the driving seat.
The home side immediately sent on Kris Boyd and the veteran striker’s first touch was a bouncing shot which Samson did well to beat away low to his left.
The Motherwell physios were then overworked as McHugh had to be replaced after a nasty clash of heads with Willie Boyle. Treatment for Samson and McDonald then followed as players tangled and tumbled on the hard artificial surface.
Killie were then susceptible to the counter attack and after 74 minutes a lightening break saw Ainsworth release Johnson but his sprint from the halfway line was matched by Smith who blocked the threat 8 yards from his goal.
Three minutes later Boyd came close to pulling a goal back with a terrific free kick but his strike was matched by Samson who threw himself low to his left to turn the ball behind.
The ‘Well goal was finally breached nine minutes from time when Greg Taylor crossed the ball into a packed box where Martin Smith’s glancing header carried the ball past Samson.
The Steelmen defended in numbers after that and survived a few nervous moments with the referee under pressure from the home fans waving aside a couple of penalty claims.
Overall, though, it was a deserved and confident win to take into the Betfred Cup tie at Celtic Park on Wednesday.
[tab:As it happened]
Lewis Irons at Rugby Park
A hard-earned three points at Rugby Park but a very welcome start to the season. COYW!
Kilmarnock 1 – 2 Motherwell
90+3′ | 1-2
Heneghan booked for a mistimed challenge on Coulibaly…
6 minutes added on…..
87′ | 1-2
Motherwell sub, Ross MacLean on for Lionel Ainsworth
81′ | 1-2
Goal – Killie pull a goal back courtesy of a header from M. Smith.
79′ | 0-2
Kilmarnock sub, M. Smith on for Kiltie.
77′ | 0-2
Chance for Killie, free-kick from 25 yards…….drilled in by Boyd, beaten clear by Samson. Good save!
74′ | 0-2
Very nearly 3!! Johnson uses his blistering pace to get past Smith but his effort is turned wide for a corner.
Today’s attendance is 4,308.
Ref ends up doing nothing in the end.
69′ | 0-2
Another crazy spell there as Killie’s physios run onto the park without play being stopped then Coulibaly shoves over Samson.
67′ | 0-2
What a chance that is as Ainsworth springs the offside trap but can’t get enough on his poke at goal to beat MacDonald.
66′ | 0-2
Ainsworth with what looked like a spot of break-dancing there as he tries to clear and is fouled by Smith.
63′ | 0-2
Been a busy few minutes for physio @aileen_and
61′ | 0-2
Another head knock! This time McDonald is the victim and Smith is booked.
59′ | 0-2
More drama as Samson does down after a knock. Initially signalled to be subbed off but will continue.
56′ | 0-2
Motherwell sub, McHugh off for Chalmers. ‘Well taking no chances with that head-knock.
55′ | 0-2
Strong penalty shout there! Cadden had his man beaten but is hauled down. Ref not interested!!
51′ | 0-2
Ouch! Nasty clash of heads there involving McHugh and Smith. The Motherwell man is booed off the pitch and booked, bizarrely.
48′ | 0-2
Killie almost with an instant reply but Boyd’s bouncing volley is dealt with by Samson.
48′ | 0-2
Kilmarnock sub, MacFadzean off for Boyd
46′ | 0-2
Wow! Second half off to a flier! Tait gets down the right and swings in a great ball which JOHNSON heads superbly into the net!!!
Johnson gets the second 45 underway. COYW!
Both sides back out for the second 45
HALF TIME’ | Kilmarnock 0 – 1 Motherwell
42′ | 0-1
Nearly a second! Johnson bursts away and his powerful takes a touch but bounces just wide of the post.
40′ | 0-1
WHAT A GOAL!!! Ainsworth is slid in and he nonchalantly chips the ball over MacDonald’s head. Exquisite finish!!
39′ | 0-0
What a save from MacDonald as the ball cannons off Clay from close range but the keeper gets down and saves well.
35′ | 0-0
Addison goes close for Killie, heading a corner just over the bar.
24′ | 0-0
From that free-kick, Johnson’s delivery is headed away to safety.
24′ | 0-0
This time Motherwell get the free-kick after Cadden was blocked by MacFadzean.
23′ | 0-0
Ainsworth wrestled to the ground but somehow the decision goes against him.
…..not far away! His curling strike lands on the roof of the net.
19′ | 0-0
Chance for Killie as Smith stands over a free-kick some 30 yards out……
17′ | 0-0
Ainsworth wins a free-kick about 20 yards out which Johnson curls just wide of the post
15′ | 0-0
Close! Johnson with a bullet of a shot from 25 yards which goes narrowly over the bar.
13′ | 0-0
Chance!! Ainsworth uses his pace to burst clear and clips in a ball to McDonald who drags his volley just past!
12′ | 0-0
Some good possession play ends with Clay’s header which lacks power and direction to trouble MacDonald
10′ | 0-0
Bit of drama here as Lee Clark has been sent to the stand already.
8′ | 0-0
First corner of the game goes Killie’s way….Hawkshaw’s delivery is headed clear by McHugh.
7′ | 0-0
Strong overlapping run there from Cadden gets himself into the box but Addison does enough to intercept his cross.
4′ | 0-0
First sniff of goal for Killie, but Coulibaly’s shot from 20 yards is harmlessly high and wide.
Kick-off! Coulibaly gets the action underway.
Out come both sides, it’s claret and amber for ‘Well and blue and white for Killie.
Motherwell manager Mark McGhee:
“I thought the first half was fairly straightforward; I thought we deserved the lead and I thought we played well.
“The second half was interrupted a bit by an awful lot of head injuries and people going down and physio’s going on.
“We got the second goal early in the half that gave us that cushion and to lose the goal when we did, they’re going to put us under pressure.”
Kilmarnock Manager Lee Clark: