Motherwell U20s returned to Development League action tonight with a 2-1 win over Rangers.
First half goals from Jake Hastie and David Turnbull secured the three points and despite a much better Rangers performance in the second half, the Steelmen held strong.
Stephen Craigan named a young team to face equally young opposition, with Motherwell’s Dom Thomas and Rangers’ David Bates the only over age players on the park.
The visitors set the pace from the first whistle, charging deep in to Motherwell territory and winning two free kicks in dangerous positions but the Steelmen survived both comfortably.
However it was the ‘Well who had the best chance to take the lead after just four minutes of action – Dylan Falconer was released through on goal and in a one-on-one situation and got his shot away. Gers stopper Robby McCrorie got enough of a touch on it to take the pace off it and full-back Jordan Houston managed to get across and clear narrowly past his post.
Rangers continued to threaten through set-pieces, with Jamie Barjonas curling a superb effort towards the top corner from 30-yards and forcing PJ Morrison to pull off an outstanding save to deny the midfielder.
The young Steelmen did superb to hit Rangers on the break when a sloppy ball out from the back from Bates afforded Thomas the chance to drive at the defence. He played it wide to Mackin who cut it back for Hastie, but the midfielder’s powerful low effort was stopped by a strong hand from McCrorie.
The youngster made amends for that though, opening the scoring after 23 minutes. Dylan Falconer struck towards goal when he was teed up inside the box by Mackin, unfortunately for young Falconer his shot looked to have been blocked, but the deflection fell kindly for Hastie inside the six-yard box and he was quickest to react and finish beyond McCrorie.
That seemed to spark the Fir Parkers in to life and two minutes after taking the lead they nearly had a second. A well worked move resulted in Thomas freeing the advancing Tom Fry from right back, he broke into the box and drilled the ball across the box but the Gers stopper did well to fling himself towards it and clutch it out of the air.
Hastie was involved again as Motherwell went inches away from a second goal. The midfielder got up highest to head towards goal from Thomas’ corner. McCrorie could only watch on as the ball flew past his far post leaving Hastie with his head in his hands.
Rangers were forced in to making a change after 30 minutes when centre back Aidan Wilson left the field to be replaced by Kyle Bradley.
In the 33rd minute, Thomas nearly scored a wonder goal, receiving the ball deep in midfield from Adam Livingstone’s throw-in and turning to beat three men before firing a speculative effort wildly over the bar from 25-yards.
Two minutes later the midfielder went closer from the edge of the box, McCrorie getting the slightest of touches to tip his goal bound effort just over the crossbar.
Barjonas was the first player to be cautioned despite a high number of fouls awarded by the referee, his lunging challenge resulted in his name going in to the book in the 38th minute.
But he nearly responded to that by getting his name on the scoresheet if it wasn’t for a fantastic save by Morrison.
A clever dummy afforded the midfielder to take a touch and strike at goal inside the box, but Morrison’s strong left hand pushed the effort from close range over the bar.
The Steelmen doubled their lead on the stroke of half time when another slack ball out of defence fell straight to Falconer, who played it quickly to Thomas who’s shot was blocked only in to the path of David Turnbull who took one touch and fired it low past McCrorie.
The second half got off to a bit of a slower start than the first, with neither goalkeeper called in to action until the 53rd minute.
Ross Lyon picked the ball up on the left flank and curled in a pinpoint, deep curling cross on to the head of Zak Rudden, who headed straight at Morrison from ten yards.
Three minutes later Liam Burt pulled one back for the visitors after some slack play at the back put Motherwell on the back foot. Burt picked up the ball and almost mirrored Turnbull’s finish by firing low past Morrison from the edge of the box.
Falconer and Turnbull both found themselves in the book in the space of a few minutes, the former for a trip and the latter for blocking a free kick.
That was followed by substitutions for both sides – the ‘Well replacing Falconer with Luke Watt as Craigan changed the shape of his side, and Rangers brought off 15-year-old Barry Gilmour for Serge Atakayi.
The U20s boss made his third and final change in the 70th minute, replacing Mackin for young forward James Scott.
Three minutes later, Thomas tried his luck from outside the box after some neat play on the left from Hastie, but Motherwell’s number seven couldn’t hit the target and it spun well over the bar.
Gers defender Bates went close from a corner in the 77th minute, heading narrowly wide of the mark as the game approached its final ten minutes somewhat in the balance.
The final stages of the game were largely played out in the middle of the park, with neither side creating too much in the way of chances.
A corner in injury time was the final hurdle for the Steelmen to get over to secure the three points and Barry Maguire did well to head the danger clear.
It was a tough second half at a cold Excelsior Stadium, but the youngsters held on for a well-deserved victory.