GLF76: My football year continues...

GLF76:  GB has covered a lot of games this season!

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MY FOOTBALL YEAR CONTINUES…….

JULY - FIFA decreed that season 09/10 would not be considered to have finished until after the World Cup Final on 11th July. Therefore it was a bit strange to be heading to our first pre-season game of 2010/2011 on Tuesday 6th July!   I decided to make the trip to Brechin, never having been before and wanted to take in the sight of the famous hedge while ticking off another new ground at the same time.

 

When I set off for work in the morning the rain had started and I put my heavy coat in the car – just in case!  I'm glad I did as after a month of the sun splitting the trees the first time we're asked to attend a domestic game the heavens open and it’s cold – so much for my summer football theory.   The game itself was typical pre-season stuff with 'Well looking a bit rusty. The side also included two trialists - Gazapo, a striker from Spain (they may be World Champions but he wasn’t very good!) and Shuker who looked lively and as if he could’ve added something to the side. We eventually strolled home 3-1 winners on the night.  After the game Craig Brown was fulsome in his praise for those who attended and also a bit surprised there was any press there.  He insisted he had no story for the press pack but did still manage to speak to them for fifteen minutes!! There was a debate about why anyone would take in a friendly when a World Cup Semi Final was on the TV on the same night.  For me, I much prefer to attend games live but I also wanted to tick off another ground and see my team – simples.

 

I didn’t consider travelling back to Angus for the Forfar game, but did travel to Somerset Park on the Saturday.  Any trip to Ayr is always full of memories for me, we stayed in Prestwick for a short spell in the 60's and I watched a lot of football at Ayr as a boy. It also helps that the memories come back easily as the ground has changed little since I used to go there regularly!  As the rain hammered down Motherwell made heavy weather of the game, with the starting line up that would likely take the field for the opening Euro tie on Thursday. Two late goals secured a face-saving 2-1 win, but as we travelled home we had to convince ourselves things would be different when the competitive stuff kicked in.  At Somerset Park there was a bit of confusion in the press box when the team sheets were handed out, with three Ayr players have BL next to there name. After some head scratching we decided this was because their strips were blank with no number!  This was to be proved correct in the second half when these guys took off their tracksuit tops. But to make things worse for them they had to change strip with the guy coming off, and in some occasions this proved difficult as the one coming off was so wet it was sticking to their bodies!!

 

The competitive stuff did start on 15th, only 4 days after the World Cup Final, when we took on Breidablik in the Europa League. The build up had us convinced we were taking on a team of world beaters given they were 10 games into their season and top of the Icelandic league.  It didn’t take long into the game for us to realise that this was not the case at all, and despite our worries about our own side, they were decent but not that great. Despite where we were in our season we still looked a better side than they did and the opening goal was going to be the key.  After a first half when we could’ve scored four it took a cross from Ross Forbes to elude the visiting defence to secure the win. The key for me was that we hadn’t lost a goal, and making sure they had to score a minimum of two at their ground.

 

On the Saturday after I took a trip to Stirling’s Forthbank Stadium to see Hamilton Accies make their first public appearance of the season. They fielded 2 teams in the game including new signings, Jack Ross, Eddie Malone, Gavin Skelton and Jamie McAllister. None of these would have us licking our lips in excitement but at least they had made 4 signings! Stirling also had one well known new signing in their side, Martyn Corrigan was playing at right back. As much as I like the Kaiser and respect what he did for us, there is something sad about seeing him play out the end of his career at places like this while looking a shadow of the player in Claret & Amber. Accies looked reasonably sharp at the start of the game and scored early through one of about what seemed half a dozen Spanish trialists! But as the game wore on it became another turgid pre-season game as the temperature dropped it became a trial to sit through the 90 minutes, although we did get a 2nd goal late on! Hard to believe that in mid-July we were grateful for a wonderful cup of steaming, hot soup at half time – another hole in my summer football argument!

 

Next up was competitive football when Airdrie took on Ayr in the Challenge Cup. I had agreed to cover this for the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser, and felt committed to go even thought the game was switched to Alloa!  This was the first game I had seen played on a 3G pitch, and was impressed by the surface. As the game went along I couldn’t understand why this was not the future for Scottish football, particularly at the lower levels. Less maintenance, less call offs and more commercial opportunities!  That was until former Well Striker Ally Graham, also covering the game for the Record, started to give a players view on it. He was more concerned with the injuries players may pick up along the way.  There must be a middle ground to this argument, particularly with the advances in technology.

 

The following week was a trip to a Lanarkshire Derby involving Airdrie away to their Monklands neighbours Albion Rovers. This was a 1,200 sell out at Cliftonhill and from early on there was a deal of hostility in the Stand as both sets of fans had a go at each other.  Sadly this was all they could do as there was nothing on the pitch to keep their attention in what was a truly awful game.  It was one of those where you just wanted anyone to score to avoid extra time.  In the end the only highlight was the “fight” at half time between the fans when punches were thrown and a couple of protagonists were removed from the ground.

 

 

Tue 6th – Brechin 1 Motherwell 3 (Sutton, Lasley, Forbes), Friendly

Sat 10th – Ayr Utd 1 Motherwell 2 (Forbes, McHugh), Friendly

Thu 15th – Motherwell 1 (Forbes), Breidablik 0, crowd 5990, Europa League

Sat 17th – Stirling 0 Hamilton 2 (Trialist, McAllister), Friendly

Sat 24th – Airdrie Utd 1 (Muir) Ayr Utd 2 (Trouten, Rodgers), crowd 624, Alba Challenge Cup

Sat 31st – Albion Rovers 0 Airdrie Utd 1 (Gemmill), crowd 1200, CIS League Cup

 

 

AUGUST - Back to Fir Park for the second leg with Aalesund of Norway, once again there was an apprehension that Motherwell would screw this up, but after 13 minutes and two goals all this was swept away as we eventually coasted home.  One of the talking points beforehand was coming up against the tallest outfield player in Europe. This will be the only record he will ever hold as he was truly a plank of wood…   The only disappointment from this tie was the draw the next day which left us with a middling tie with Odense rather than the cream of Europe such as Man City or Villareal.

 

The following Saturday I made the trip to the Riverside to see my English side, McBoro, take on Ipswich Town. The game saw the debuts of Boyd & Thomson after their moves from Rangers. Sadly it was a bad day all round for the Scots (including me!), as Boro crumpled to a 1-3 defeat. Boyd got no service & Thomson was anonymous, not the best debuts for the pair! The only highlight was putting £1 (last of the big spenders) on Scott McDonald to score first at 5/1 and seeing the wee man oblige, it was downhill from then on!!

 

On the following Monday it was up to Fir Park for an old possibles v probables type friendly/trial match.  The amazing thing for me was that we managed to get 504 to turn out to watch it, that was exactly 100 more than the crowd the next night when I was at Hampden for an Alba Cup game between Queen’s Park and Forfar. The game itself was highly entertaining, believe it or not, although no matter how entertaining it is you just don’t want extra time. With Queens two up with about 10 minutes to go – we looked okay, until of course they gave away two at the other end!Then to rub salt in the wound Forfar scored minutes into extra time, and you want to ask why they couldn’t have done that minutes earlier.  It was also quite funny listening to the manager’s after the game, Dick Campbell telling us he got lost in Hampden, and then Gardiner Spiers treating us to an off the record rant about the ref….

 

As we were still in Europe at this stage and playing our games on a Sunday, it was Airdrie next as they played their first game on their new plastic pitch. It was strange to go into the ground and smell rubber rather than fresh grass that you often do at this stage of the season.  It wasn’t the pitch that decided this game but once again a referee upset the managers. Although it was Ayr striker Mark Roberts who had the best line after the game, admitting if he could afford it he would retire after suffering the refs performance.

 

The next day was our first SPL game of the season, a bit strange as I had seen 12 games already! Hibs were the opposition and everyone was looking for 6-6 again, and if the teams had their shooting boots on we would have got it again.  It was a great game to start the season with two teams going at it hammer and tongs, the only downside was we lost 2-3!

A midweek off as I couldn’t get time off to travel to Denmark for the Odense game, but it was Coatbridge again on the Saturday. This time against Queen’s Park, but the highlight was sitting next to two former Well men, Ally Graham and Brian Martin, with the Buffmeister telling me had stopped playing after 25 years as a pro! Top man…..

 

A trip to Ayrshire next day to take on Killie, & this was to prove a surprisingly easy 1-0 win, even though Brown made a few changes with a view to resting players for the Odense game on the Thursday. Killie were awful and had their fans in the main stand greeting at every opportunity – always adds to the great feeling when we win at Rugby Park!

Now for the big one, Odense at home and as always with Motherwell it was a bit of a disappointment as we hit the glorious failure button. We played them off the park, they scored with one chance, we missed a penalty and bucket load of other chances. They were even down to nine men at one point. Sums the Steelmen experience up in one paragraph!  The real highlight here was the shock on everyone’s face in the press room when Craig Brown admitted to throwing a punch – no one saw that coming, including the Odense director by all accounts!

 

We were still playing on Sundays which allowed me to make the first trip to Broadwood this season as Clyde took on Albion Rovers. For an oldie like me it is awful to see how far the Bully Wee have fallen. It is in my lifetime that it was always a tough trip to Shawfield, particularly when they had Par Nevin, Stevie Archibald and Dom Sullivan (and Willie McVie) in their side.  Sadly there is no one to match these legends at the moment and they could well be in the bottom tier for a long time to come based upon this performance in what was one of the worst games of football ever!

 

Our game with Celtic the following day probably wasn’t much better to be fair. The European experience appeared to have taken it’s toll on our players and we looked extremely flat on the day.   Celtic were no great shakes either and the Well fans were once again treated to a Maloney masterclass in falling over, leading to a major outcry when he won their penalty. In my view this was the only way they were ever going to score.

 

Thankfully for Motherwell the International break was upon us, this would give the bulk of the squad two weeks to re-charge their batteries, and allow the fans to get Europe out of their system!

 

 

Thu 5th – Motherwell 3 (Murphy, Sutton, Page), Aalesund 0, crowd 7721, Europa League

Sat 7th – Boro 1 (McDonald), Ipswich 3 (Smith, Priskin, Stead), crowd 21882, Championship

Mon 9th – Motherwell v Motherwell – Challenge Match!! – crowd 504!

Tue 10th–Q Park 2Watt,McBrideForfar 3Templeman,Deasley,Sellarsaet,crowd 404,Alba Cup

Sat 14th – Airdrie 2 (Wallace, Donnelly pen) Ayr Utd 2 (Roberts), crowd 1127, SFL2

Sun 15th – 'Well 2 (Sutton, Murphy pen),Hibs 3 (Stokes, Hanlon, Miller) crowd 5172, SPL

Sat 21st – Albion Rovers 2 (Hamilton 2), Queens Park 1 (McBride pen) crowd 497, SFL3

Sun 22nd – Kilmarnock 0 Motherwell 1 (Blackman), crowd 5399, SPL

Thu 26th – Motherwell 0 Odense 1 (Utaka), crowd 9105, Europa

Sat 28th – Clyde 1 (Dingwall) Albion Rovers 2 (Stevenson pen, Donnelly), crowd 1014, SFL3

Sun 29th – Motherwell 0 Celtic 1 (Murphy pen), crowd 9207, SPL

 

 

SEPTEMBER - First up an Alba Challenge Cup Quarter Final at Firhill as Thistle took on Ayr Utd in what was forgettable game which Thistle almost threw away in the closing stages.   The major thing I took away from this game was the state of Firhill and how run down it had become with the amount of time the Jags have spent out of the top flight.  I thought it might have been in a better condition given they share it with the Glasgow Warriors Rugby side!  As I have often said before, there for the Grace of God goes Motherwell….

I then attended the Scotland v Leichtenstein game at Hampden, and all I want to say on that game is; it was the worst International I have ever seen at the old ground since I first went there in 1970!

 

Thankfully Motherwell were on the road again on the Saturday with a trip to Perth to take on St. Johnstone. I was amazed with the ease of our victory on the afternoon with Saints barely troubling our defence after the first minute of the game!  I also noticed that financial constraints are hitting McDiarmid Park, the last time we were there they had a packed suite under the Main Stand which made phoning my report into L107 difficult. This trip the suite was empty and it was deadly quiet making it easy to phone the studio!

 

Another midweek without a game as the Champions League takes over football for the week before we welcome Mark McGhee and his Aberdeen side to Fir Park.  I noticed there was a schism between the club and the fans on our former manager with almost everyone behind the scenes being prepared to sing his praises while the fans were ready to slate him at any opportunity.   I can see both sides, as a Manager of the club he did transform the football side and set us up nicely for our recent 'successes' but I guess the fans got fed up with his apparent touting of himself for every job that came up both in Scotland and England.   The game itself was another poor advert for the SPL, but certainly one we should have one given our dominance over all. The big disappointment was letting their centre forward Vernon score, as he looked to be one of the worst strikers I have seen in the SPL, although I wasn’t impressed by Jutkiewicz when he came to us last season.

 

Brechin in the League Cup next & this had all the hallmarks of another nightmare for us, but despite some scares we progressed fairly comfortably to of all things goals from corners by Jonathan Page!  The major problem for me on this one was actually getting there, having to get over the Kingston Bridge where a Tanker had chosen to break down and cause more congestion than normal!!  Driving quickly and safely I managed to make in time to have a pie and some of the excellent home made soup before the game kicked off!!  The soup here rivals the soup of Albion Rovers, and I never though I would ever say that.

 

A double header the next weekend with a trip to Edinburgh for our game with Hearts and then a trip to Bolton for their game with Manchester United. Motherwell recorded another outstanding away win, although it came against a pretty rank Hearts side that seems to have no direction once again. There were stories behind the scenes that Romanov was getting involved again, and I thought Jim Jeffries was the man to stand up to him, but he seems to be toiling with this as well, given his post match comments.   The star man on the day was Chris Humphrey who finally seemed to have learned to cross the ball with both goals coming from his balls into the box. This was less than 48 hours after his partner gave birth to a baby girl – a good weekend for the lad all in!  An early start on the Sunday to get to Bolton for a noon kick off, but the roads were easy to negotiate and we were there for 10:30, and in the ground for 11. This gave us time for a couple of beers before the kick off, and of course, got us thinking again why we can’t have this service in Scotland.  It makes the game day experience much more relaxed and sociable and is a source of revenue for the club – maybe John Boyle is right on this one.  The game itself was entertaining with Bolton giving things a right good go after going into the lead after only five minutes. United were a disappointment, with Rooney out of sorts, Berbatov lazy and Nani (no Chris Humphrey) flitting in and out of the game.   In the end Bolton were unlucky not to take all three points, with Elmander being particularly wasteful in front of goal before Michael Owen equalised.

 

 

Sat 4th – Partick Thistle 2 (Doolan 2), Ayr Utd 1 (Rodgers), crowd 1831, Alba Challenge Cup.

Tue 7th – Scotland 2 (Miller, McManus), Lichtenstein 1 crowd 37050, Euro qualifier

Sat 11th – St. Johnstone 0 Motherwell 2 (Blackman, Rutkiewicz og), crowd 3254, SPL

Sat 18th – Motherwell 1 (Murphy) Aberdeen 1 (Vernon), Crowd 5251, SPL

Tue 21st – Brechin 0 Motherwell 2 (Page 2), crowd 903, SLC

Sat 25th – Hearts 0 Motherwell 2 (Blackman, Sutton), crowd 13749, SPL

Sun 26th – Bolton 2 (Knight, Petrov) Manchester United 2 (Nani, Owen), crowd 23926, EPL

 

 

OCTOBER - Back to the SPL for the St. Mirren game the following Saturday, and one of those games Well fans fear – we were favourites against the team at the bottom of the table. This normally means disaster for Well, and it almost happened again!  We opened that game with a half hour of dominance and took the lead with Chris Humphrey’s first goal for the club. Then we fell out of the game and were lucky to be winning at the break and it was no surprise when Saints equalised.  At least we capitalised on their error at the back when Mair panicked and gave away a penalty which Hateley converted, before Murphy scored from a Gow cross.  The penalty brings me back to the point the papers laboured after the game, it would seem our pitch is now slippy and treacherous when it rains!  What more do we need to do, it is now flat, draining well etc etc but they still highlight an issue, real or not!   It would appear we only scored two goals thanks to Saints players slipping and sliding. This ignored Reynolds and Randolph slipping when Saints equalised!

 

It looked like a blank Saturday the following week, although Carlisle v Notts County was considered briefly. Then along came an announcement the under 19s would be playing with a 1pm kick off!  Having said that he game itself was poor and Motherwell did eventually see off a stubborn Albion side although the scoreline was only made respectable with two goals in stoppage time.  It was good to see two familiar names in the squad with the nephews of Rob McKinnon (who attended the game) and Jim Griffin in the side, with Ross McKinnon starting at left back.

 

It was International games next with a trip to Easter Rd for the Scotland Under 21s play off game with Iceland. It was impressive to see the performance put in by Jamie Murphy, in what was to be a losing cause in the end.  As a neutral I took the opportunity to sit in the New East Stand at Easter Rd, and while the sight lines etc are good, this is another stand built on the cheap and is  a breeze block monstrosity.  The other highlight of course was seeing Chris Maguire benefit from Murphy’s assist to score from the half way line following the kick off. It was hard to believe what you had seen when you were at the game!!

 

Next night a trip to Hampden to see the World Champions, and what a night it was with Scotland running them close but not being good enough in the end. It was a joy to watch the movement of the front guys for Spain, with Iniesta running the show in midfield.  The team sheets were interesting to read, with Spain having players from Real Madrid and Barcelona while we had players from West Brom, Middlesbrough and Sunderland!

 

After the break we were at Ibrox and although we were winning at half time I refused to get carried away and unfortunately I was right as we collapsed for fifteen minutes and ended up losing FOUR quick goals – something I never thought I would say with a team managed by Craig and Archie.  In truth I was left shaking my head wondering how we had managed to do this as we looked in control for long spells in the game. Thankfully these are not the games our season is judged upon and the final week of October was more important.

 

This kicked off with Dundee United in the League and history repeated itself as we beat them for the second time in my lifetime by two own goals.  Again this was one of the worst United sides I had seen for a long time, and watching their bully boy and long ball tactics I can’t say I am impressed that Peter Houston is involved with the Scotland set up!  Having said that some of our football was some of the best I have seen for a long time, and the emergence of Chris Humphrey is one of the stories of the season as he now seems to have put a finishing touch to his blistering pace.

 

The second game with United in the League Cup was a big disappointment apart from the result which saw us progress to a Semi Final with Rangers, although no one was surprised we were drawn with one of the Old Firm!!

 

Finally in October it was visit from our poor relations from South Lanarkshire and another game of anti-football from the Accies. The worst thing that happened in the game was them taking the lead allowing them to spoil the game at every opportunity.  This was aided and abetted by referee Craig Thomson who allowed them to get away with everything apart from GBH or Murder!!  No-one at the game could understand why he didn’t send off Martin Canning when he fouled Blackman for the penalty – but thanks to the gagging order on our refs we will never know what he was thinking!!  The game also allowed me to see a second Hasselbaink score, after seeing Uncle Jimmy Floyd having scored for the Boro against West Ham a few years back – although not a double I really wanted to complete!!  Ah well two wins out of three in a week isn’t bad for us, and third place and a cup semi final to look forward to isn’t a bad return for the first four months of the season.

 

 

Sat 2nd – 'Well 3 (Humphrey, Hateley (p), Murphy), St. Mirren 1 (Wardlaw) crowd 4384, SPL

Sat 9th – Motherwell U19s 3 (Watt, Pollock, Howarth), Stirling Albion U19s 0, SFA Youth Cup

Mon 11th  – Scot U21s 1 (Maguire) Ice U21s 2 (Sigurdsson 2), crowd 12320, Euro Play off

Tue 12th – Scotland 2 (Naismith,Piquet og), Spain 3 (Iniesta,Villa,Llorente), 51322, Euro Qs

Sat 16th – Rangers 4 (Naismith,Davis,Miller,Weiss) 'Well 1 (Blackman), crowd 44609 SPL

Sat 23rd – Motherwell 2 (OGs!!), Dundee Utd 1 (Goodwillie), crowd 4635, SPL

Tue 26th – Motherwell 1 (Gow), Dundee Utd 0, crowd 4838, SLC

Sat 30th – Motherwell 0 Hamilton 1 (Hasselbaink), crowd 4865, SPL

Graham Barnstaple

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