Motherwell rounded off their Ladbrokes Premiership season with a thoroughly entertaining 3-2 win over Livingston – taking their points tally to 51 and their highest haul since season 2013/14 when they finished league runners-up.
An action packed first half saw a Liam Donnelly headed goal and a David Turnbull double provide ‘Well with a three goal advantage – not to mention two penalties saved inside an amazing minute.
Not surprisingly the pace of the game and chances diminished in the second forty-five until 10 minutes from time when Livingston substitute Scott Tiffoney grabbed a quick double to set up an exciting finale to the game and the league season.
The only change to a familiar looking line-up was Carl McHugh making way for Liam Donnelly to make his first start of 2019. And while Trevor Carson made a welcome return from serious illness to take his place on the bench, there were no seats for the out of contract quintet; Curtis Main, Jake Hastie, Elliot Frear, Alex Gorrin and former captain Peter Hartley.
In an attempt to give the match more than an end of season atmosphere, ‘Well invited 4,000 school kids to occupy the South Stand and while they noisily enjoyed a thoroughly entertaining game, for older spectators the match had an element of deja vous.
A week shy of 16 years ago James McFadden, on the eve of collecting his PFA Scottish Young Player of the year award, conjured up a majestic hat-trick as ‘Well demolished Livingston in a 6-2 thriller. That proved to be his last game before heading to Everton in August for £1.25 million.
With David Turnbull collecting his SFWA Young Player of the Year tomorrow night, the 19 year old had a great opportunity to emulate his hero – only to pass up the chance of his first senior hat-trick.
Similar to the fixture in February Livingston started the livelier side and could have a goal or two to their credit before being blown away by ‘Well’s hat-trick of strikes.
Mark Gillespie was the busier ‘keeper in the opening nine minutes throwing himself left and then right to hold attempts from Lee miller and Alan Lithgow.
Those early threat were forgotten in the 10th minute when the Fir Park side opened the scoring. And it was a first goal for Donnelly who sneaked unchallenged toward the six yard box to nod Turnbull’s inswinging free kick past the flat footed Ross Stewart.
Back came Livi forcing Gillespie into another save and Charles Dunne a timely tackle to block Ryan Hardie before ‘Well double the lead with a wonderfully constructed goal.
Scott drive from 25 yards was palmed over the bar by Stewart. From the resultant corner Gboly Ariyibi cleverly played the ball low toward the front post where Scott back healed into the path of Turnbull who lashed the ball home from 10 yards.
The young fans in the stand behind that goal didn’t have long to wait for number three. Aryibi cutely jinked past two defenders in the box before being tripped by Craig Sibbald. That gave David Turnbull the chance to calmly claim his 14th goal of the season placing the spot kick down the centre of the goal.
On the half hour Livingston should have been rewarded for their positive play but having evaded Dunne, Hardie’s tame effort from a couple of yards was kicked off the line by Gillespie.
Three minutes from half-time the Livingston striker had the chance to make amends when Tom Aldred brought Ricki Lamie’s powerful run to an abrupt end leaving referee David Munro no option but to point to the penalty spot. Although Hardie drove the ball low to the ‘keeper’s right, Gillespie made a terrific one handed save to keep his goal intact.
Incredibly play raced to the other end with Ariyibi playing Turnbull into the box but with little threat to his goal, Stewart clattered into the legs of the ‘Well midfielder to concede yet another penalty. The scene was set for Turnbull to claim his first senior hat-trick but his weak spot kick was pushed away by Stewart to bring a breathtaking first half to a close.
Chris Cadden, perhaps in his last appearance, looked determined to add his name to the scoresheet but a coupe of well driven shots were firmly held by the Livi ‘keeper.
With half an hour remaining 18 year old David Devine was given his debut replacing Charles Dunne at the heart of the home defence.
After 73 minutes Cadden had another chance to make it 4-0 but having cut inside the box his attempt on goal was blocked by Lamie. Four minus later Stephen Robinson introduced another 18 year old, Dean Cornelius coming on for captain Richard Tait.
The youngster was hardly on the park when Livingston deservedly pulled a goal back. Gillespie stretched to push Lithgow’s header across his goal but Scott Tiffoney somehow forced the loose ball inside the post and give the visiting fans something to cheer.
A minute later the Livi fans were celebrating again, Tiffoney cutting inside Devine before slotting the ball low past Gillespie and set up a dramatic end to the game.
Dolly Menga’s powerful angled drive came close to claiming an equaliser before Carl McHugh came on for a final appearance and use his experience to see out the game and earn ‘Well their sixth home league win of the year.
As the players returned to the pitch after the game to take the fans appreciation, a number of them making their final appearance in claret amber, many wondered if David Turnbull, in one final comparison with James McFadden, would be the subject of a record breaking transfer bid over the summer.