MOTHERWELL’S hopes of reaching the group stage of the Europa League lie in tatters after a comprehensive win by Levante at Fir Park.
The SPL side showed little of the quality they had in going down 2-0 to Panathinaikos in the Champions League qualifiers as despite the same result being recorded the La Liga side were much better value for their win than the Greeks.
The two away goals, which are likely to be too much for Motherwell to overcome when they visit Valencia for the return leg, came courtesy of Juanlu Gomez and ex-Liverpool winger Nabil El Zhar and ‘Well’s misery continued as Shaun Hutchinson as sent off late on.
Steven Hammell and Adam Cummins came into the back four in place of Zaine Francis-Angol and Simon Ramsden from the side who had beaten Kilmarnock five days previous as manager Stuart McCall decided not to go with the 5-4-1 he deployed against Panathinaikos and instead elected to go with the regular 4-4-1-1 line-up.
Having watched Levante in action against Athletico Madrid, ’Well assistant boss Kenny Black had identified the Spaniards defence as a possible weak link and early on widemen Jamie Murphy and Chris Humphrey saw plenty of the ball to try and get at them.
Murphy threatening in the seventh minute with some fine play down the left and a dangerous low cross which was cut out at the near post by David Navarro.
However, Navarro was less assured when he was robbed in possession by Humphrey on the other flank but the winger’s cross went straight to goalkeeper Keylor Navas.
Levante decided it was time to start showing their obvious qualities and Vicente Iborra’s long-range shot was blocked by Hutchinson and a rebound from the same player to forced a save from Darren Randolph.
Randolph then got down well to save a 20 yard shot Michel and the visitors kept up the pressure but failed to find a way through, but just as it appeared ’Well would go in at the break level on 42 minutes Levante scored.
The Motherwell defence were busy claiming offside against Theofanis Gekas, but failed to match the run of JUANLU who sprinted clear and struck a low shot beyond Randolph.
Levante were keen to put the tie to bed in the second half and only Randolph stood between them and their efforts to do so as he raced off his line to prevent El Zhar getting on the end of Michel’s through ball and then himself at the feet of Gekas as the Greek striker made his way into the box.
’Well were on the ropes but Henrik Ojamaa came close to grabbing an unlikely equaliser.
First he collected a neat Nicky Law pass, but hesitated and allowed Vicente Iborra to make an excellent block and then scuffed another shot wide of goal.
Any thoughts of getting back into the tie was all but extinguished on 62 minutes as Levante made it 2-0. Christian Lell found himself in space on the right and his low cross was turned in by an unmarked EL ZHAR.
Things then got even worse for the home side on 77 minutes as Hutchinson saw red for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity after crudely bringing down Gekas on the edge of the box.
Motherwell: Randolph, Hateley, Hutchinson, Cummins, Hammell, Humphrey (Kerr 68), Lasley, Law (Carswell 86), Murphy, Ojamaa (McHugh 68), Higdon. Subs not used: Hollis, Daley, Francis-Angol, Hetherington.
Levante: Navas, Lell, Ballesteros, Navarro, Karabelas (El Zhar 40), Iborra, Barkero; Lopez, Michel (Pallardo 66), Juanlu (Serrano 76), Gekas. Subs not used: Munua, Rodas, Angel, Serrano.