Motherwell brought down the curtain on 2021 with a fourth consecutive home win and another three points to maintain their hold on fourth place in the cinch Premiership.
A goal in each half from Kevin van Veen made it a highly impressive 17th win for Graham Alexander since he took charge at the start of the year.
It was another stunning strike early in the game which settled the home side and set them on the way to another impressive win. With his wonderful free-kick having treated the limited crowd to a goal of the season contender, the Dutch striker effectively tied up the points 20 minutes from time with a glancing header.
Bruce Anderson’s goal three minutes from time gave the ‘Well fans an uncomfortable end to the game but overall it was a thoroughly controlled and deserved win for the Fir Park side.
The football year concluded where it began with a restriction on fans. ‘Well’s 500 season ticket holders who were fortunate enough to get a seat via a ballot, were thinly scattered the length of the John Hunter stand.
The ‘Well boss made two changes to his starting line-up. Barry Maguire replaced Dean Cornelius in the middle of the park with Connor Shields replacing Tony Watt.
And the former Queen of the South striker was immediately in the thick of the goalmouth action. An inswinging free-kick from Sean Goss caused a bit of melee in the six-yard box forcing Max Stryjek to drop and smother the ball as Shields pounced looking for a loose ball.
It was pretty even start by both sides until the 13th minute ‘Well opened the scoring with a real Christmas cracker.
Alan Forrest needlessly tugged Nathan McGinley’s jersey five yards outside the box as Livi attempted to clear Liam Donnelly’s corner.
With Goss and Van Veen hovering over the free-kick it was a case of a Dutch masterclass as the Fir Park striker sublimely curled the ball over the defensive wall and high past the motionless Stryjek for a wonderful goal.
That spurred a response from the visitors as they made themselves busy around the home goal.
It was a Kelly double after 25 minutes when Sean, with a drive from 20 yards, forced the first save for his brother Liam in the ‘Well goal.
As the game passed the half-hour mark it was the Fir Park men who were increasingly being asked to defend their own penalty area.
In a rare attack eight minutes from the break, a foul on Stephen O’Donnell provided his side with another free-kick just outside the visitor’s box. This time Goss was given the responsibility but his curled effort was easily held by Stryjek.
Four minutes from the interval Liam Kelly held Forrest’s free-kick before sending Kaiyne Woolery off on a threatening run. But after attempting to work an exchange with Van Veen, Craig Sibbald’s crude lunge brought the Livi midfielder a yellow card and an end to any chance of ‘Well grabbing a second goal.
As referee Don Robertson brought the first half to a close there was little other than the Steelmen’s stunning goal to ward off the December chill.
Within two minutes of the restart, Van Veen was given another chance to demonstrate his dead ball expertise, But his free-kick from 25 yards clipped the Livi ‘wall’ and deflect behind the goal. From the corner, Donnelly’s outswinging ball found Sondre Solholm but his downward header was wide of target.
The chance of a better second half from the home side improved five minutes later when ‘Well came close to adding a second goal.
Woolery won the ball on the right of the box and his pass found Goss unmarked on the penalty spot who could only watch his firm left foot finish blocked as Sean Kelly bravely threw his body in front of the ball.
A more determined spell from Graham Alexander’s men had Livingston defending deep inside their own box, although Stryjek remained untested.
On the hour David Martindale made the first change bringing on striker Anderson and his introduction sparked a bit of life into the Livi attack.
But it was Motherwell who again came close to scoring after 65 mins. Van Veen threaded the ball into the path of the overlapping Goss and his low angled drive produced a good blocking save from Stryjek.
Four minutes later ‘Well made it 2-0. Shields whipped a tempting cross towards the six-yard box and van Veen rose behind his marker and with a nonchalant header send the ball narrowly inside the ‘keeper’s right hand post and put the home side on the driving seat.
It should have been 3-0 after 75 minutes when van Veen and Shields combined to set up Woolery, However, 10 yards from goal his poor first touch allowed Stryjek to easily gather the ball when the Livingston ‘keeper should have been collecting the ball from the back of his net.
That miss might have mattered as the Fir Park men, with Juhani Ojala returning from injury to replace Solholm for the final 10 minutes, were given a fright three minutes from time when Anderson swept home Penrice’s cross.
There was still time for van Veen to be denied his hat-trick after his run from the halfway line ended with his low shot being blocked by Stryjek’s leg.