Motherwell 0 vs. 1 Llanelli
UEFA Europa League First Qualifying Round, First Leg
Thursday 2nd July 2009, Kick-Off 8.05pm
Shyberry Excelsior Stadium, Airdrie
Season 2009/10 gets underway only 14 days after season 2008/09 ended, and before I’ve even bothered to write the last two games of that season up.
It’s an even earlier start to the season than last year, with Motherwell playing in the qualifying round of the new Europa League. The Europa League is of course just the UEFA Cup under a new name, and this stage takes the place of the Inter-Toto Cup.
In the third season of The Wire, Stringer Bell asked, “What are the options when you got an inferior product in an aggressive marketplace?” He got the answer, ‘Change the name.’ UEFA were obviously listening, as The-not-quite-as-good-as-The-Champions League-UEFA Cup now becomes The-not-quite-as-good-as-The-Champions-League-Europa League.
Of course the UEFA Cup only looks like the poor relation to the Champions League because UEFA changed the rules and moved the big teams who would have qualified for the UEFA Cup under the old rules into the Champions League.
But I digress. This season Scotland has 6 representatives in European competition. The first time this has happened since 1970/71 and only the third time ever.
Just for the record:
2009/10 – Celtic, Rangers (ECL), Motherwell, Aberdeen, Falkirk, Hearts (EL)
1970/71 – Celtic (EC), Aberdeeen (ECWC), Hibernian, Rangers, Kilmarnock, Dundee United (ICFC)
1968/69 – Celtic (EC), Dunfermline Ath (ECWC), Morton, Rangers, Aberdeen, Hibernian (ICFC)
I digress again. Tonight’s match is being played at Airdrie United’s Excelsior Stadium, as Motherwell’s Fir Park pitch is undergoing ‘extensive remedial work’.
Motherwell are strong favourites for this tie. McBookie.com have them at 1-14 to progress into the next round. They also have Llanelli at 14-1 to win on the night.
A trip through to Airdrie (I made three last season) didn’t really thrill me, but I made the journey anyway, along with thousands of Motherwell supporters and a relative handful of Lllanelli fans.
The day is warm and sticky and the evening isn’t much better. I bump into a friend of a friend on the train. He’s a Motherwell season ticket holder and we negotiate the roadworks outside the train station together. He’s already bought his ticket, so goes off to meet his dad outside the west stand. I, on the other hand, have opted to pay at the gate, I now realise however, I didn’t check before I came out to make sure you could do such a thing.
Although the gates have this evening’s prices above them, £15 for adults, £20 family tickets, you can’t actually pay at the turnstiles. You have to go round to the west stand, to buy a ticket at the ‘Pre-paid and complimentary tickets’ gate. This causes some confusion, as many fans walk past it presuming this gate is for ‘Pre-paid and complimentary tickets’.
It becomes obvious pretty quickly, that although I’m here fifteen minutes before kick-off, I’m not going to get into the ground in time.
I miss about 8 minutes of the match by the time I get into the ground in the east stand. There is still a queue of about 50 or so Motherwell fans waiting for tickets by the time I get mine.
I take my seat up at the back of the stand, not my seat exactly, because of course some people are sitting in the worng seats, but I sit next to the one my ticket allocated me.
The Motherwell fans are giving a bit of stick to Llanelli’s player/manager Andy Legg, 43 at the end of July. Playing at left-back, he’s mainly taking it tight for his bleached-blonde hair. He takes it in good humour, giving the home fans plenty back. Legg, a six times capped Welsh international, quit playing football in 2005 while he was with Peterborough, after a tumor on his neck was found to be cancerous. He went back to playing a couple of years ago once he had the all-clear.
Motherwell’s goalkeeper Michael Fraser, making his debut, appears to have lost some kind of cruel bet as he’s decked out all in pink. His socks in particular look like the kind of thing 14-year-old girls wear to the Cathouse on an under-18s night.
Motherwell are the better side early on, playing the ball around well and building some chances. They just can’t find a goal.
In defence Motherwell have no answer to Legg’s long throws. They seem to cause a bit of panic at the back every time. They really should have come as no surprise. In 1992, while at Swansea City, Legg entered the Guinness Book of Records thanks to his 44.6 metres (164ft) throw-in. The record was only beaten 8 years later by Tranmere’s Dave Challinor when he threw 1.4 metres further.
Twenty-six minutes into the first half fans are still arriving inside the ground. Just in time to catch Llanelli taking the lead. It’s a cracking goal as a corner to the back post finds Stuart Jones who powers a diving header in between ‘keeper and goalpost.
Lllanelli forward Rhys Griffiths causes the ‘Well fans to jump up from their seats when he goes in with his studs up on Keith Lasley. He’s shown a yellow card, but a lot of refs would have sent him off.
Andrew Mumford, Llanelli’s number 4, at 16 stones plus, takes some ribbing from the ‘Well fans. At one point, a young boy behind me shouts out “Take the ball off that fat boy.” I’m sure he’s used to it and walked through the game without any trouble.
At the half-time whistle Motherwell leave the field to a chorus of boos.
There’s not much more to cheer about in the second-half. The Welshmen defend well and Ashley Morris in goal does well with the little Motherwell give him to do.
The fans aren’t enjoying this display and after a while the home support barracking their team and the referee gets a wee bit tiring.
With around seven minutes of normal time remaining some of the crowd begin making for the exits. Motherwell have a couple of shots from long range late on, but nothing Morris can’t cope with.
The boos ring round the ground at the full-time whistle.
The Llanelli players take the time to come over and applaud the home support, and their appreciation is recipricated by the departing Motherwell fans.
This is the first time a Scottish club has lost to a Welsh one in Europe. It might be possible for Motherwell to turn it round in the second leg on 9th July, but they’ll have to play a lot better than this.
On the walk back to the train station, through Airdrie’s streets, a young local on a scooter stops to shout at the Motherwell fans. “Ha, ha, you came all the way up here and youse got beat. Come on the Wel-sh!”
There is a match report on the BBC website. There is also a slideshow of photographs. Here’s the report from the Llanelli website.
I’m not the only football blogger getting his season underway at this
ridiculously early time. Nomadic Fitba has a report of the game up here and Dave’s Football Travels has a brief report here. I’m sure Dave will have much more to say once he catches up with about a dozen games from last season.
Motherwell: Fraser, Saunders, Craigan, Reynolds, Hammell, O’Brien (McHugh 74), Lasley (Slane 46), Forbes, McGarry, Sutton, Murphy. Subs Not Used: Kosiorowski, Darren Smith, Fitzpatrick, Hutchinson, Page.
Llanelli: Ashley Morris, Legg (Warlow 51), Howard, Stuart Jones, Jarman (Thomas 16), Phillips, Mumford, Corbisiero, Venables, Griffiths, Craig Jones (Follows 65). Subs Not Used: Craig Morris, Jenkins, Moses, John.
Scorer: Stuart Jones (28)
Referee: Tero Nieminen (Finland)