Sutton 28, 81
DUNDEE UNITED 3
Daly 5, 43, Conway 49
It is always unsatisfactory when two evenly-matched teams are separated by a freak goal inspired by the elements. With this in mind, a draw would probably have been the fairest result for two teams who tried to play football on what could only be described as an appalling surface. As it is, Craig Brown’s revival of Motherwell has now been halted by four straight losses while Dundee United must wish the season could go on for another month after closing the gap on Celtic to seven points. With Neil Lennon’s side in disarray, the impending trip to Tannadice probably sees them go in as underdogs. It is just as well that there are only four games remaining.
Motherwell made a composed start, playing neat and positive football in the style that saw them go twelve games unbeaten before their recent slump. The opening goal, therefore was a complete kick in the teeth. Stand-in goalkeeper Michael Fraser stumbled on some re-laid turf after receiving a back pass and could only hook the ball with an outstretched leg. Jon Daly knew nothing about it but was delighted to see the ball cannon off his chest and into the empty net. Undeterred, Well continued to probe, keeping the ball on the floor and trying to fashion an opening. Playing with any fluidity was extremely difficult as the ball bobbled rather than fizzed across the surface. However, some neat interplay created a chance for Mark Reynolds, who unfortunately provided a defender’s finish. Their equaliser was just reward for the endeavour and there was a sense of justice that parity had been restored after the manner of the opening goal. Tom Hateley’s flighted corner was well executed, and was met by a bullet header from John Sutton. It was game on again.
Before the game, Brown had talked about the need for his side to make the other team score against them as opposed to forfeiting openings to the opposition. So the visitors’ second goal would have caused enormous frustration. Another back pass to Fraser was shanked clear and mis-controlled out for a corner. The unnecessary set-piece saw Daly charge through unmarked to volley home. There appeared to be an NFL-style block on his marker by Darren Dods, but Brown will focus on another opportunity that had come through a lack of concentration rather than a moment of inspiration. The third goal owed something to a moment of quality and threatened to end the contest. Craig Conway got away from Chris Humphrey on halfway and went on a slalom run into the box. His low drive went through Fraser with the aid of a bobble and put United firmly in command. They had not been a real threat in an attacking sense, and their lead flattered them. But what the Arabs have done is developed an ability to win ugly. A major criticism of their opponents would be that they lack that capability, and the absence of Keith Lasley in midfield robbed them of some much-needed presence and experience. Allowances should be made for the injury to Steven Craigan, which took another leader away from them. But despite playing the better football, they looked lightweight and slightly na