’Well left green as European hopes dented

Ivelin Popov (left) scores his first.
Ivelin Popov (left) scores his first.

Kuban are nicknamed The Toads due to their green strips, but could equally be ‘the avocados’ as Well’s Euro dreams went pear-shaped.

The home support welcomed the side from Krasnodar with a wall of noise for the Europa League third quaifying round tie, as AC/DC’s Thunderstruck belted out the Fir Park tannoy.

However, they were silenced as two goals from Bulgarian playmaker Ivelin Popov sealed victory for the visitors as ‘Well travel to the Cossack heartland for the second leg facing a task to salvage the tie steeper than the Ural Mountains.

’Well boss Stuart McCall made once change to the side who had drawn with Nottingham Forest as Zaine Francis-Angol adding some pace ofn the left wing at the expense of Bob McHugh.

This allowed McCall to pack the midfield, with Paul Lawson given a man-marking job on Popov, and it worked well . . . for a time.

The home side actually started the brighter, with Iain Vigurs and John Sutton both having chances, but there was a constant threat at the other and Popov put Ibrahima Balde one-on-one with Lee Hollis.

The Senegalese striker knocks the ball past the goalkeeper, but it drifted just wide of the post.

Determined play by Keith Lasley allowed him to get in a cross for Sutton, but he couldn’t get behind the header, and Balde had another go cutting in from the right and curling an effort that just missed the top corner.

Balde then crashed the ball off the bar from 25 yards as the warning sounds got louder.

However, ’Well should have been handed the chance to take the lead in 36 minutes as Roman Bugaev appeared to push Sutton in the box as he tried to conect with a James McFadden cross. but Swiss referee Alan Bieri wasn’t interested.

There was no changes at half-time, but the break appeared to kill ’Well’s edge and on 52 minutes Kuban took the lead.

Balde dribbled into the box before squaring to allow POPOV an easy toe-poke finish past Hollis.

Things then nearly got even worse as a short back pass by Shaun Hutchinson forced Hollis to scramble out quickly to clear before Balde could pounce.

The Russians were now peppering the host’s goal with chances as they searched for number two, but it wasn’t all one way traffic as McFadden going all he could to drag his side back into the match.

He came really close with a shot that deflected off Charles Kabore and came within a whisker of the target.

Vigurs has shown in pre-season he has an eye for goal with his powerful left foot, but despite numerous chances of this night could never seen to catch one cleanly enough to serously test Alexander Belemov.

On 78 minutes came the killer second as following a break from a ’Well corner Aleksei Koslov slipped in Balde who once again swuare for POPOV to make no mistake.

With ten minutes to go on-loan Estonian striker Henri Anier was given his debut replacing Lawson, while Kuban gave a run out to their big summer signing Djibril Cisse.

Hollis denied him his first goal for his new club, while two minutes into injury time it was the post which denied Sutton’s header and a vital lifeline in this tie.

Motherwell: Hollis, Hammell, Ramsden, Hutchinson, McManus, McFadden (Kerr 82), Lawson (Anier 80), Sutton, Vigurs, Lasley, Francis-Angol. Subs not used: Nielsen, Cummins, McHugh, Carswell, Moore.

Kuban Krasnodar: Belemov, Xandao, Dealbert, Tsorayev (Fidler 79), Kabore, Bucur (Urena 85), Sosnin, Koslov, Bugaev, Popov, Balde (Cisse 82). Subs not used: Karyukan, Armas, Bezlikhotnov, Zhavnerchik.

Referee: Alan Bieri.

Attendance: 6.748.