Motherwell kicked off their cinch Scottish Premiership campaign enjoying a thrilling 90 minutes with Hibernian.
And although Graham Alexander’s men were unlucky not to get a share of the points, the ‘Well boss had a lot of positives to take from an absorbing match.
Not least the performance of his summer signings and in particular Callum Slattery and Kevin van Veen.
The towering Durch striker gave the Hibs defence a torrid time before tiring in the second half. By then he had grabbed his first goal in claret in amber to give ‘Well a 13th minute lead.
After Hibs equalised through Kyle Magennis, Bevis Mugabi marked his return by restoring the home side’s lead.
Two second half goals from Christian Doidge and a rather harsh penalty converted by Martin Boyle gave the Easter Road men the edge and all three points.
With the Fir Park pitch resplendent in the August sunshine and the 5,800 fans socially distanced in the refurbished stands, the scene was set for a richly anticipated and noisy return to league action.
For the opening league game, the ‘Well boss relied largely on the players which helped the side advance to last 16 of the Premier Sports Cup.
Mugabi, fully recovered from his shoulder injury, lined up alongside Ricki Lamie at the heart of the home defence.
After being sidelined for an entire league season Liam Donnelly returned to the midfield, where recent acquisition from Southampton Slattery made his first start.
Up front Tony Watt was joined with summer signings Kaiyne Woolery and Van Veen.
It was the Dutch striker who immediately impressed the home fans as he used his towering frame and body strength to give Ryan Porteous and Paul Hanlon an uncomfortable opening spell.
And his industry was rewarded as he opened his ‘Well goal account after 13 minutes. Tony Watt’s cute backheeler allowed the overlapping Jake Carroll to whip a cross into the six-yard box where Van Veen expertly cushioned his header back across the ‘keeper to give the Fir Parker side the perfect start.
Before they could build on that lead , though, Hibs found an equaliser. From wide on the right Paul McGinn’s cutback was missed by a team-mate. Unfortunately, the ball bounced off the unsuspecting Donnelly and into the path of Magennis who stabbed the ball past the helpless Kelly and make it 1-1.
That provided a boost for the Edinburgh side and Hanlon headed over before former Fir Park favourite Jamie Murphy lobbed his effort over Kelly and into the Davie Cooper stand.
However, it was the home that regained the lead after 29 minutes.
Slattery, who looked highly accomplished on the ball, drew a foul from Alex Gogic. Carroll whipped the resultant free kick to the back of the Hibs’ six yard box where Mugabi’s downward header saw the ball bounce inside Matt Macey’s right hand post.
With both sides committed to playing three up front the action continued at both ends of the pitch until the end of a thoroughly entertaining first half.
Play resumed with Hibs on the front foot and after five minutes only a top class save from Kelly kept ‘Well ahead. Gogic thought he had netted the equaliser as his powerful drive headed just under the bar but the ‘Well ‘keeper threw himself high to his left to palm the ball over the crossbar.
Jack Ross made the first substitution of the game in the 53rd minute sending on Christian Doidge for Gogic. And the striker had an immediate impact scoring the equaliser within two minutes.
Kevin Nisbet’s shot from 15 yards rebound from Kelly’s left-hand post and Doidge got his boot in front of Donnelly’s to force the ball over the line to make it 2-2.
‘Well could have been back in front eight minutes later. Van Veen’s incisive pass split the Hibs’ defence allowing Woolery a clear run towards goal only to see his low shot blocked by Macey’s outstretched leg.
The next chance came Hibs way courtesy of the penalty spot. McGinn’s ball into the box found its way to Nisbet and when his low shot struck Stephen O’Donnell’s trailing hand, referee David Munro immediately awarded a penalty.
Although Kelly guessed correctly Martin Boyle blasted the spot kick past the diving ‘keeper to put the Easter Road men ahead with 20 minutes remaining.
After an impressive 73 minutes Slattery merited his standing applause from the home fans as he made way for Justin Amaluzor who added more threat to the home attack.
A second change seven minutes from time brought Steven Lawless into the action but as the Motherwell players pushed forward until the final whistle they were denied a share of the spoils.
The final chance to grab a deserved leveller came Barry Maguire’s way in injury time but after switching the ball to his left foot at the edge of the box, the Scotland Under 21 man fired his shot over the bar.