The high quality entertainment on offer at Motherwell’s season ending 3-2 home victory over Livingston superbly whetted the appetite for the next campaign, writes Craig Goldthorp.
Motherwell raced into a 3-0 lead thanks to Liam Donnelly’s early header from a David Turnbull free-kick, followed by another two Turnbull goals, the first of which came from a fantastic corner routine.
Gboly Ariyibi’s short flag kick was flicked on by James Scott to Turnbull who shot home emphatically.
And it got even better for the hosts within three minutes. Sibbald fouled the tricky Ariyibi in the box and Turnbull stood up to comfortably score from the spot.
Then came a bizarre sequence of events late in the first half which I’ve never seen before in 35 years of watching the Steelmen, as penalties were missed at both ends within a minute of each other.
Tom Aldred’s foul conceded a penalty to the visitors but Ryan Hardie’s effort from 12 yards was brilliantly stopped by Gillespie.
Play then raged to the other end straight away, with Turnbull brought down in the box by onrushing keeper Stewart. But Turnbull’s resultant spot kick was saved by Stewart.
Talk about drama! My Twitter posts were being hammered almost about as much as Watford were in their 6-0 FA Cup final roasting by Manchester City later that evening.
Despite Turnbull’s miss – which came as a surprise to everyone in the stadium given how brilliant he’s been this season in scoring 15 goals from midfield – the Steelmen still looked home and hosed with a three-goal cushion heading into the final 15 minutes.
But you learn to expect the unexpected with this Motherwell team and they duly made life much harder for themselves by conceding two late goals to Livi sub Scott Tiffoney which brought the score back to 3-2 by the end.
So another Scottish Premiership season has come and gone and Motherwell have ended in eighth place with a respectable points total of 51 from their 38 matches.
But that statistic tells only a fraction of the story.
A difficult run of five defeats from seven league games in December had the Steelmen down in 10th spot after winning just five of their opening 20 league games.
At that stage, with so few points on the board and fans increasingly voicing their displeasure at the often brutal quality of the matches Motherwell were involved in, the outlook for the remainder of the season looked grim and beating relegation looked no foregone conclusion.
But Motherwell gained a crucial 2-1 win at local rivals Hamilton Accies on December 29 – outstanding defender Tom Aldred scored two goals – and this superseded a second half of the campaign which was much better on several fronts.
Manager Stephen Robinson ditched the tried and trusted 3-5-2 formation for a much more attractive 4-3-3 set-up.
This gave January loan signing Ariyibi and outstanding youngsters Turnbull, Jake Hastie and Allan Campbell the licence to stamp their considerable influence on matches.
The games have been much better to watch recently and Motherwell managed an impressive nine wins and three draws from their final 18 fixtures, form which if they had replicated in the first half of the season would have had them challenging for a European spot.