Motherwell delivered an early Christmas present as Jake Carroll’s sparkling free-kick sealed three points at Kilmarnock in a 1-0 win which lifted the Steelmen into third spot in the Scottish Premiership, writes Stuart McFarlane.
The trip to Rugby Park on Saturday was a chance to bounce back for ’Well after three straight wins had been disrupted by defeat to Rangers last time out, while Killie had caretaker boss Alex Dyer in charge in his first game.
The home side had come into the game with a habit of not conceding many goals under previous boss Angelo Alessio and that trend appeared to continue in an even first half which was devoid of real quality.
There was nearly calamity for the ’Well defence on 14 minutes when a long ball wasn’t dealt with and Jake Carroll’s header went past keeper Mark Gillespie, but Declan Gallagher scrambled back to spare his blushes.
The best chance of the half fell to Allan Campbell 10 minutes later.
Jermaine Hylton found space down the left after a neat flick by Carroll and he eventually cut the ball back to the midfielder in space near the penalty spot, but his effort was deflected over for a corner.
Eamonn Brophy was next to go close for Killie, heading just wide of the post from Stephen O’Donnell’s cross on 26 minutes.
’Well had the ball in the net on 51 minutes when Chris Long bundled over the line after Hylton’s shot was parried, but the offside flag cut short the jubilant celebrations from the travelling support.
Referee Willie Collum then attracted the ire of the ’Well bench when he pulled back play for a trip on O’Donnell by Hylton as the winger broke through on goal despite initially appearing to let the challenge go.
But those frustrations were eased as the Steelmen took the lead with a picture perfect free-kick on 67 minutes. After Mark O’Hara was tripped on the edge of the area, Carroll stepped up to bend a delightful strike past a helpless Branescu in the Killie goal.
The home side had created little in the second period but were stung into action by the goal, with Chris Burke’s long-range free-kick stinging the palms of Gillespie, before Brophy’s follow-up was easily handled by the keeper.
And Brophy was to miss a golden chance to level affairs on 77 minutes when he was found unmarked by O’Donnell’s low cross, but he blazed over when he should have done better.
Brophy had Killie’s next chance, but Gillespie was equal to the task once again as he palmed away the striker’s low shot from 16 yards.
The visitors were clinging on under serious pressure at this point, but wasted a chance to make things more comfortable when Sherwin Seedorf fired over after a quick break.
And only the legs of Branescu denied Polworth after he hared through one on one from another counter but the Steelmen saw out the closing stages.