In my opinion, Motherwell’s meek exit from the William Hill Scottish Cup to Championship Ross County was a disaster waiting to happen, writes Craig Goldthorp.
Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to the second tier leaders – who should have scored more goals at Fir Park – brought an abrupt end to involvement in the tournament for last season’s runners-up.
Although ’Well manager Stephen Robinson admitted later that his toothless side were second best throughout, I’m being honest here when I say that Motherwell would have won this tie had it been played two weeks earlier in the wake of the fine 2-1 derby win at Hamilton on December 29.
The swashbuckling ’Well from that Accies match were replaced by a side flat from the off against County, who looked hungrier and sharper as they belied their lower league status with a clinical display.
Motherwell’s lethargy could partly be explained by the fact that they were returning from the aforementioned three-week winter break, which had included a week’s training camp in Tenerife.
In addition, new loan signings Ross McCormack – who looked nowhere near full fitness – and winger Gboly Ariyibi – Motherwell’s bright spark in the first half – were thrown in from the start which can’t have been easy for them given their lack of recent first team action at former clubs.
On the other hand, County have been playing competitive matches week in and week out in recent weeks, at a decent standard.
Although they had been crushed 4-0 by Queen of the South in their last Championship fixture, they are top of that division having won 11 and drawn six of their 21 league games this season.
The Staggies are also effectively a Premiership team in all but name, having retained the services of established stars like Scott Fox, Michael Gardyne and Kenny van der Weg and added two-goal Fir Park hero Brian Graham in the summer.
Graham’s two second half strikes had the Dingwall men on easy street before a late Motherwell flurry saw them pinch a last gasp goal when substitute Jake Hastie headed in an Elliott Frear cross.
But boss Robbo made no excuses about that loan strike papering over any cracks when speaking afterwards.
He said: “We got what we deserved. I thought Ross County deserved to win the game.
“They created more chances than us. I thought Mark Gillespie had two or three really good saves.
“We are trying to do things a little bit differently. We’ve signed players and hopefully we’ll be able to implement that more as it goes on.
“But you could have Ronaldo and Messi up front if the service up to them isn’t good enough and people don’t take responsibility to get on the ball then it’s difficult.
“So it’s up to me to get that combination right.
“We didn’t have it right today so I take the blame.
“I do think we need a big target man up front that can get people into the game, hold the ball up and get the wide players into the game.
“We’ve brought players in that I believe will bring more quality in.
“We put them both in the starting line-up today because we wanted to try and give the place a lift. I knew that they would be rusty.
“Both will improve from that game.
“We’re extremely disappointed with the result.
“They looked like they hadn’t stopped playing, we looked like we’d had a four-week break.”