A brilliant Stuart McKinstry free-kick was not enough to prevent Motherwell’s latest league defeat to Rangers, 1-2 on Sunday in a performance which will leave Stevie Hammell with plenty to ponder before our League Cup quarter-final with Celtic on Wednesday.
McKinstry’s 77th minute strike from close to the left touchline appeared to be deliberately aimed at the top corner and caught out veteran Rangers keeper Allan McGregor.
But it was too little, too late, and the narrow final score of 1-2 does not reflect the passivity we showed throughout the 90 minutes. It was only Rangers – off the back a midweek 7-1 humbling remember – playing visibly without confidence that allowed us to stay vaguely competitive.
Malik Tillman’s opening goal in the 53rd minute was an appalling gift, even by our standards against the Old Firm. Paul McGinn was unchallenged in midfield when he gave the ball away and Tillman ran fully 50 yards unchallenged by five (yes, five) players around him before clipping the ball past Liam Kelly.
Motherwell captain Kelly had been largely untested between the posts till then with Tillman’s early shot over and Antonio Colak’s misguided free header shortly after the break Rangers’ best chances with the game goalless.
We had even less going forward with Kevin van Veen’s left foot shot just before Tillman’s goal our only hint of an opportunity.
Hammell can point out that with Blair Spittal, Joe Efford and Louis Moult joining the injury list on top of Conor Shields’ suspension he had few options – the incomplete bench had three 16-year-olds watching on.
But the problem wasn’t who was unavailable rather those who were. Van Veen’s continual dallying and poor decisions led to several giveaways while Callum Slattery, Ross Tierney and McKinstry were responsible for too many midfield turnovers under minimal pressure.
Josh Morris, returned from his exile due to the squad situation, could be added to that group but he will feel his display was no worse than par for the day.
Rickie Lamie going off injured around the hour is unlikely to improve mood in the manager’s office either, not least since it was replacement Bevis Mugabi who lost John Lundstram when the Rangers midfielder headed the 69th minute winner.
There had been no suggestion of an equalizer, indeed no reaction at all to falling behind, before McKinstry’s bolt from the blue at least forced the visitors to remain alert throughout the closing stages.
A return of 13 points from the first round of fixtures is respectable enough but the recent direction of travel has been clear. The gap to the bottom three is now just four points and there is no doubt we are already in the first sticky patch of Hammell’s short managerial career.
It is not time to panic yet but a tough run of fixtures suggests our nerve will be tested severely in the coming weeks.
Team: Kelly, Penney, McGinn, Lamie, Solholm, Slattery, Tierney, McKinstry, Goss, Morris, Van Veen
Sunday 16 October 2022