Thursday July 2, 2009 – Excelsior Stadium, Airdrie
Having seen a number of Intertoto Cup failures over the last few seasons, I had hoped that I’d seen the back of ill-prepared European forays by Scottish clubs with the introduction of the new ‘Europa League’ this summer.
Not only was this a pretty dire game of football, but it produced a disaster of a result for Motherwell and their new manager Jim Gannon, with the plucky part-timers of Llanelli heading back to Wales with a first leg lead and precious away goal.
The game itself was switched to Airdrie due to ongoing works on the Fir Park pitch, with Motherwell following in the footsteps of Queen of the South who played Danish side Nordsjaelland on the ground a year ago.
As mentioned in a previous blog, the Excelsior Stadium is a decent enough stadium, but it does lack atmosphere. Only two stands were opened for this game and although both were relatively well filled the atmosphere was flat, giving the game a pre-season friendly vibe.
Perhaps the weather played a part, because it was a very warm night – most un-Scottish! Many fans turned out in shorts, something which is extremely rare in this part of the world.
The pre-season feel to things continued when the game got underway. Motherwell started brightly but their initial burst of pace and enthusiasm seemed to ebb away when the threatened early goal failed to arrive.
It was clear from the early exchanges that Llanelli weren’t up to much and in particular their goalkeeper looked like a weak link for Motherwell to exploit.
Amongst the other players for the Welsh side was their 43-year player-manager Andy Legg, instantly recognisable thanks to a bleached blonde haircut suitable for a lad half his age, and an uncommonly long throw technique.
On several occasions he put Motherwell goalkeeper Michael Fraser and his defence under pressure which throw-ins which were every bit as effective as a corner would be.
Llanelli’s chunky no 4 Andrew Mumford was another who was easy to pick out. Easily tipping the scales at 15 stones one of the biggest surprises of the evening was that he had the fitness to last the full ninety minutes.
Motherwell’s team contained a few unknowns, with several youth players introduced to make up a squad depleted by the transfers of Paul Quinn and David Clarkson to Cardiff City and Bristol City.
Shorn of most of their real quality, Motherwell laboured for the bulk of the game, although they had a lot of the ball and a hefty territorial advantage. Their distrubution was rusty with several routine passes going astray or being mis-controlled.
In the final third of the park, they lacked the ideas to really test a Llanelli back four which I thought performed well and looked solid. Aside from a couple of ambitious long shots, the Motherwell support wasn’t given much to get excited about after the opening flurry of attacks.
Indeed there seemed to be an air of resignation amongst the crowd long before the game actually ended. When it did, there was a chorus of boos for the men in claret and amber.
Llanelli won the game by virtue of a well taken first half goal by Stuart Jones, who showed determination to get on the end of a 28th minute corner and power a header past Fraser.
I can’t recall the Welsh side having too many other attempts on goal, if any, and together with Motherwell’s lack of penetration, that will tell you what sort of game this was.
At this time of year it’s easy to put a poor performance down to a lack of fitness or by the fact that new look teams need time to gel, and that’s fine in pre-season friendlies.
For me, Scottish clubs should be preparing more professionally when it comes to playing important competitive games like this one, where UEFA co-efficients are at stake and when the rewards for getting through a couple of rounds can be lucrative.
Not only is it a bit tiresome watching half baked teams struggle through games they should win comfortably, but it doesn’t seem right that supporters are charged full whack to see Europa League games which are being used as de facto pre-season friendlies.
Scoring – 0-1 S. Jones (28)
Attendance – 4307
Admission – £15
Programme – £2.50
Food – Scotch pie £2, Small cup of Fanta £1.50
Match Rating – 4/10