Opening Day Fixtures

Last updated : 06 June 2004 By Firparkcorner

The SPL fixture list for season 2004/5 is due to appear in a fortnight and it seems certain that computer will have to make arrangements for a ‘Team X’ unless a decision between the Thistles comes along in the next few days.

Happily there is no debate about our inclusion for next season’s fixtures and soon we will be able to anticipate the first game of the season. Here is a reminder of most of the last dozen curtain raisers.

90/1 Motherwell 2-0 Celtic

This one is definite a contender for the best opening day of recent memory. This match had everything – a big crowd, some great goals, a Motherwell win and some heinous violence. Darius Wydobczek was red carded in the first half for a couple of reckless lunges and Colin O’Neill rearranged Peter Grant’s facial features (doing him a favour surely?) with his elbow. O’Neill’s actions were missed by the referee but unfortunately not his supervisor or the Scotsport cameras. Psycho was later banned for a several games and, to be honest, no one could really complain. The game was still evenly balanced going into the closing stages but a little dink from Dougie Arnott gave us the lead and an outrageous shuffle and finish from shimmy king Bobby Russell gave us a 2-0 success. Our home form at the start of the season was excellent, if in total contrast to our pathetic efforts away from Fir Park. Of course, come May 1991 we’d managed to improve things…

93/4 Motherwell 2-2 Celtic

Draws against the old firm are never a bad thing although it’s safe to assume that Tommy McLean won’t have been delighted at losing a two goal lead. However, we’d shown enough to indicate that we had a decent side and this was proven with an excellent season that eventually saw us finish 3rd. Goals from Dougie Arnott and young debutant Alex Burns had given a good start but a suicide ball back into our own box by Ian Angus allowed Celtic to pull one back before the break. The visitors dominated the second half and it was no great surprise when they equalised. In truth, we were probably lucky to hold on for a draw but over the course of the season, we did defeat Celtic twice while only losing once. We also finished above them in the league for the first time in 34 years.

94/5 Rangers 2-1 Motherwell

Despite our success the previous year, a trip to Ibrox on opening day did not fill ‘Well fans with confidence. Stevie Woods made his league debut for the club, replacing the departed Sieb Dykstra and he didn’t disgrace himself with his performance. Rab Shannon would have been looking to forget the day though, he was sent off half way through the first period and left us facing an uphill battle. Rangers were 1-0 up at half time but we made a great start to the second half and scored a deserved equaliser with a Tommy Coyne penalty. We missed chances throughout the game – mainly due to a stunning display from Andy Goram – and were made to pay in the last minute. Brian Laudrup broke away from our corner and eventually fed Duncan Ferguson who won the game with almost the last kick of the ball. The loss was disappointing but we had another great season, finishing second, and avenging the defeat with a 2-0 win at Ibrox in May.

97/8 Dunfermline 0-2 Motherwell

Perhaps not the best performance in our list, but this was a classic away day for the decent Motherwell support who travelled to Dunfermline. The home side started better but couldn’t create chances against a well organised defence. One moment of panic came when the Pars had a very good penalty claim turned down but other than that, we just about deserved to be level at half time. In the second half, Alex McLeish had the troops fired up and we came out with all guns blazing. Eddie May was scythed down for a penalty that Coyne converted and TC scored his second when he back heeled home a corner. Inconsistency plagued our season though and we finished second bottom, four points above relegated Hibs. League reconstruction meant we avoided playing Falkirk in a play off. This season also saw us hit six against the Hibees in a relegation crunch, McLeish defect to Leith and an appalling blunder by Stevie Woods gifted Rangers a cup replay and cost us a quarter final place.

98/9 Motherwell 1-0 St Johnstone

It has been five long years since we won an opening game and that came with a 1-0 success against St Johnstone. Harri Kampman was our manager at this time and his squad of foreigners and cheap Scots made a flying start. The game wasn’t the best and despite being down to ten men, St Johnstone gave as good as they got for long periods. A stunning free kick from Jered Stirling (remember him?) gave us a narrow victory but it was evident from the performance that we would be in for a long season. John Boyle swept into Fir Park a few months after this game and after a friendly in Utrecht, Kampman hightailed it back to Finland and was never seen again. A new chapter in Motherwell’s history began with the appointment of Billy Davies, who led the team to a comfortable mid-table finish in his first season.

99/0 Hibs 2-2 Motherwell

When the fixtures for the season are announced, no one is eager to receive a trip to a newly promoted side. This trepidation is even more evident when the promoted side is a ‘big’ team who will probably be going on to have a good season. Taking this in perspective, our 2-2 draw at Easter Road on the opening day of 1999/00, was a great performance. Predictably, Hibs started like a house on fire but we managed to fight our way back into things and looked like going in level at the break. However, a dodgy looking striker called Lehmann drilled one under Goram on the stroke of half time and we were up against it. We showed great resilience to equalise through a Pat Nevin diving header but when Lehmann bulleted home a late header it looked like the points would be staying Leith. Stevie Nicholas hadn’t read the script though and popped up to score our second equaliser well into injury time. The drama wasn’t finished though and it took a sensational save by Goram to deny Lehmann his hat-trick and what would surely have been the winning goal.

00/1 Motherwell 0-2 Dundee

After a creditable fourth place finish the season before, ‘Well fans were confident of rolling over Ivano Bonneti’s team of foreign nobodies. Not for the first time, we were shown that when we are feeling arrogant, we’re heading for a doing.
Dundee were nothing short of sensational and the 0-2 score flattered us and not them. To be fair, a Stevie McMillan header hit the post when we looked certain to equalise, but the fact they hit the woodwork about 800 times kind of weakens our hard luck story. We were also reduced to playing a wee boy up front – Martin Wood – due to injuries and suspensions. This was the season where we needed to develop in a solid top half side and continue the push for Europe – for various reasons it never happened and Billy Davies had his team sold from underneath him as John Boyle began to tighten the purse strings – an ominous indicator of things to come.

01/2 Dunfermline 5-2 Motherwell

This effort has to go down as one of the most pathetic opening games in memory. And at half time, it was all going so well. A shaky start allowed
Dunfermline to dominate the opening minutes and it was no surprise when they took the lead. Our ‘creative’ midfield of Elliott, Dow, Martinez and Twaddle soon began to do their job and we soon levelled from the penalty spot. At the break, it looked like only one team would go on to win, and that was us. Unfortunately, our ‘creative’ midfield proved they had no heart or desire to battle and our defence was a shambles. Twenty minutes into the second half, we were 5-1 down and the Dunfermline players and fans were just as shocked as us. We pulled one back this didn’t disguise the fact another long season was staring us in the face. Billy Davies only lasted another two months before being axed and Eric Black eventually managed to lead us to safety. Of course, that doesn’t cover half of what the season eventually had to offer.

02/3 Motherwell 0
Dundee 3

The uninspiring performance gave no hint of the great season which lay ahead. We were two down at half time and we looked like the away team. There was no confidence on show and not much in the way of fight. There were debut appearances from Messrs Marshall, Craigan and Burns. The keeper was at fault for the first and Toastie managed to send a penalty high and wide. From then on the season got better and better.