Motherwell U20s got their Scottish FA Youth Cup defence off to a winning start, but were made to work hard by a well-organised Cumbernauld Colts.
Stephen Craigan named a strong side for the early morning kick-off at the Excelsior Stadium, with Ross MacLean and Jack McMillan returning to the side and James Scott replacing the suspended Dylan Mackin up front for the Steelmen.
Allan Campbell returned to his familiar central-midfield role after filling in at right back midweek and making his debut for the first-team against Ross County last weekend – and right from the off he dictated much of the play and tempo of the match.
It was a dominant opening ten minutes from the Claret and Amber men, with Cumbernauld keeper Ross Campbell producing a fine save to deny Jake Hastie from close range and a number of opportunities being squandered in a tight, busy Colts box.
Some terrific footwork and a flighted cross from Ross MacLean led to a opportunity for James Scott, but the striker couldn’t quite get enough on it and Campbell collected it.
Adam Livingstone fancied his chances from range after collecting the ball out wide on the right in the 22nd minute, driving forward and cutting inside onto his left foot before attempting a powerful effort from the edge of the box, but it flew narrowly over the crossbar.
The visitors were mostly limited to opportunities from corners, with Fraser Sheridan sending in a few threatening deliveries.
And Colts went closest to opening the scoring from one of Sheridan’s corners – an in swinging corner leading to a bit of a scramble in the Motherwell six-yard box which PJ Morrison gathered in the end to quell the danger.
But it was a brief spell for the visitors, as Motherwell began to relax again and eventually took the lead just minutes before half time. A clipped ball over the top from Livingstone allowed Hastie to charge through on goal and slot the ball past Campbell to open the scoring.
The second period started much brighter yet somehow the score remained 1-0 after an several opportunities went begging for Craigan’s side.
Hastie burst through on goal and had Scott with him for support, but the youngster went for goal instead and the save from Campbell dropped right at the feet of the striker, but, under pressure, he struck over the bar from close range.
Scott had another opportunity just minutes later when he got on the end of a flighted cross from MacLean, but couldn’t get enough on the header and it flew wide of the mark.
It was so nearly two and a second for Hastie when the winger was played in down the left – charging in to the box the youngster beat his man with a neat step over and fired a powerful left-footed strike across goal, agonisingly clipping the far post as went beyond for a goal kick.
Scott was withdrawn from the action after 57 minutes of play, being replaced by Dylan Falconer who immediately got in on the action, bursting down the right side of the box and firing a low ball across goal which ran past everyone in the box.
Davie Turnbull was next in line to have an effort on goal, this time getting on the end of tom Fry’s free kick but heading narrowly over the bar from close range.
If Cumbernauld Colts were going to grab a goal back, it almost certainly looked like coming from a set piece, with the Motherwell defence having little to do in open play. A free kick from Pirie from around 30 yards tested Morrison who did enough to get his body behind it and save.
The margin remained just one and in the 75th minute it seemed Motherwell could double their lead as they hit Colts with pace on the break. Hastie, picking up the ball in the right wing position, cut inside and teed up Fry who was clattered by a challenge. Fortunately the ball landed back with Hastie who took a touch and dragged a low left-footed strike wide of the post from the edge of the box.
Connor McKenzie nearly punished the Steelmen with ten minute to go and it was the visitor’s best chance of the game. A low, dangerous ball across goal towards McKenzie could only be turned over the bar from close range.
Dylan Falconer had to leave the field of play after coming on for Scott, limping off in the 84th minute to be replaced by Ryan Watters. And the substitute nearly sealed the game with his first touch, sending his lefty-footed, curling effort just over the bar.
Some intricate play down the left allowed Cumbernauld Colts to get in behind the Steelmen from a throw-in, crossing the ball in to the head of Sean Brown who could only head wide from inside the box as the visitors put in a strong showing in the final ten minutes.
Brown nearly made amends for his missed header in the 90th minute, spinning Jordan Armstrong and unleashing a half-volley towards goal but it scraped the roof of the net as it fizzed over the bar.
Fortunately, the Steelmen managed to hold on and see out the game 1-0.
They didn’t hit their familiar heights on a sunny morning at the Excelsior Stadium, but ultimately the youngsters defence of the cup got off to a successful, winning start.
Motherwell: Morrison, Livingstone, Armstrong, Maguire, McMillan, Campbell, MacLean, Turnbull, Scott (Falconer – 75mins (Watters – 84mins)), Hastie, Fry
Subs Not Used: Pettigrew, Agyemang