After a fine day out in Dundee the day before, it was almost back to normal as we made a visit to an extremely wet Fir Park, Motherwell, for the Live, Sky Sports lunchtime game.
The first time I was at Fir Park was in the early 1980s and again, like so many grounds mentioned before now, the last visit I made here must have been around 1999.
This is a relatively local game, so there was not much traveling involved. It was busy trying to get off the M74 motorway, then again as we got nearer the ground. Although the side street we left the car on was only about five minutes’ walk away from the Main Stand entrance, we were soaked through in that time, which made for an uncomfortable experience watching the game.
I had booked the tickets online a fortnight ago, but still had to collect them. The queue was out the door, but thankfully it was for people buying, not collecting, so we waited only a couple of minutes to get served and be on our way. As the damage had already been done with regards to being wet through, we walked round the four stands and took a couple of pictures along the way.
Once we knew what turnstiles we were entering, a small queue had formed. A couple of minutes had passed and it was not moving very fast. Some fans were beginning to lose patience and there was some raised voices with a couple of stewards. It transpired that the turnstile operators were questioning the age of some people trying to gain access to the Family Stand! The extended wait meant that we just got drenched even further!
We got something to eat, at the curiously located food counter, which is situated right at the top of a busy stairwell, before going up to our seats, which were near at the back of the stand, next to one of the Sky cameras. Just before kick off, it was announced over the tannoy that the game would be delayed for fifteen minutes due to one of the ‘Cash Converters’ advertising hoardings coming loose on the East Stand across from us.
Motherwell have been on a great run of form and are unbeaten since the end of February, leaving them in a strong position to finish second in the table. They have a good team spirit, with a number of key players in the side and were pretty much at full strength for this game. Goalkeeper, Darren Randolph has been the regular number one for a couple of years now and is now getting international recognition with the Republic of Ireland.
They have experienced full backs in both Steven Hammell and Tom Hateley, with Shaun Hutchinson being the focal point of the defence. The midfield has the tough tackling pair of Keith Lasley and Nicky Law in the centre, with the pace and skill of Chris Humphrey and James McFadden in the wide areas. The latter has hardly played any games in the last couple of years due to long term injuries, but his form has picked up in recent months and he has been influential in this Motherwell team.
Up front, the industrious Henrik Ojamaa is partnered by SPL top scorer and PFA Player of the Year contender, Michael Higdon. He is taunted about his weight by opposition fans and occasional fellow professionals, but I am a fan of his. There is no doubt about his scoring record, he has a presence in attack, is good in the air and on the deck, and as he has proved already this season, he can score from distance too. The only attribute he is missing is maybe some pace, but he certainly makes up for that with his goals return.
In the opposite dug out, Celtic Manager, Neil Lennon has publicly stated that, with the league title now won, his intention is to give some of his players a rest. Those given a break included, Kelvin Wilson, Efe Ambrose, Joe Ledley and Kris Commons. Lennon also had to do without the services of long term casualties, Adam Matthews and Captain, Scott Brown along with James Forrest who sat this one out, despite playing last weekend.
Fraser Forster was in goals, Thomas Rogne replaced Wilson in the centre of defence, alongside Charlie Mulgrew. The holding midfielders were Beram Kayal and Victor Wanyama, with the width provided by Georgious Samaras and Australian, Tom Rogic. Tony Watt started up front with Gary Hooper, meaning that Anthony Stokes was on the bench.
The kick off was not delayed as long as originally thought and the game got going only five minutes behind the original kick off time. Celtic seemed to come out the traps quicker and moved the ball around well.
The first decent chance came in the opening couple of minutes, when Rogic received the ball midway through his own half, before hitting a fine long pass over the Motherwell defence. It found Tony Watt in space on the right, though he looked to be at least two yards off side. The young striker controlled the ball well but, under pressure, he put his shot just over the crossbar.
Five minutes later, Motherwell then had a great chance to take the lead from a corner. It was taken short between Hateley and Law, before the ball was whipped across the six yard box from Hateley’s delivery, but Hutchinson failed to get on the end of it. In fairness to the big defender, I think he anticipated that Wanyama would clear it, but instead the Kenyan made no attempt to win the ball, which put Hutchinson off.
Some good interchange play from Celtic, after quarter of an hour, saw the ball moved across the eighteen yard box from Rogic to Samaras and he laid it off for Kayal, who fired a clean shot at Randolph, which the keeper comfortably parried.
It was at this point there was a farcical situation going on near us with some fans in the stand. A small minority of fans had chosen to stand instead of sitting at kick off, meaning that a lot of others, mainly kids, could not see the game. After a couple of requests for them to sit down, from stewards and nearby supporters, everyone did sit apart from three individuals.
It dragged on for the majority of the first half and they eventually moved seats, but it overshadowed what was a decent start to the game. Had this been any other area of the stadium, I am quite sure someone would have pointed out the error of their ways and the matter would have been resolved!
We were then treated to a moment of magic from James McFadden, as he rolled back the years. Having received the ball on the left of the Celtic half, he ran at two defenders before cutting into the box, however, he then moved the ball onto his right foot and sliced his shot wide of the right hand post.
The next chance of the game fell to Celtic again on the half hour and it was from a set piece in a dangerous position, following a foul by Higdon on Samaras. Charlie Mulgrew on his favoured left foot, curled a free kick some twenty five yards from goal but Randolph made it look more difficult than it actually was, with a somewhat theatrical save.
Tony Watt was having an excellent game and again he held the ball up well on the left, before putting in a cross that landed in the six yard box. It fell for the on rushing Hooper, who took it first time, but his side foot volley was expertly blocked by Randolph.
Five minutes before the break, Celtic eventually made the break through and it was down to the tenacity of Watt down the left wing again. From inside his own half, Wanyama slipped a ball through for Watt and he accelerated past Simon Ramsden. As the angle narrowed, he managed to clip the ball over the onrushing Randolph, to the unmarked Hooper. The Englishmans six yard header hit the face of the bar, but he readjusted his body for the rebound and volleyed into the net past a couple of despairing Motherwell defenders.
It looked as though that would be the only goal of the half, but with one of the last kicks of the ball, Motherwell were level. A long pass to the half way line found Lasley, whose first touch was exquisite, taking the ball away from Rogne who foolishly dived in. The midfielder then played a nice pass through for Ojamaa, who held off the attentions of Lustig and Mulgrew to fire past Forster at his near post to equalise.
Based on the chances and possession in the first half, Celtic maybe edged it, but their slackness was punished by a team who would not likely pass up the opportunity to take advantage.
The equaliser seemed to galvanise the Motherwell players and it looked to have had almost the opposite effect on the Celtic team. The second half was only a couple of minutes old, when the hosts were awarded a penalty. You could argue it was fortuitous, but none the less it was a penalty every day of the week. A ball played down the right for Ojamaa to chase, saw him get in on Charlie Mulgrew’s blind side and as the defender moved for the ball he made contact with the Estonian striker and both players hit the deck.
Referee, Euan Norris did not hesitate and immediately pointed to the spot. Michael Higdon took the kick and placed it high into the top right hand corner, leaving Forster with no chance and put Motherwell ahead.
Six minutes later, the home side extended their lead even further. Some patient play on the right saw Nicky Law roll the ball out to Hateley and he floated a deep cross to the back post from about forty yards out. There was a suspicion that Higdon was offside as the ball was played across however, he had put Lustig under pressure and the big Swede’s header came back off his own post, then off the back of the diving Forster and into the net. The Motherwell fans were ecstatic, while the Celtic players and fans looked on bewildered. Having taken the lead, they were now 3-1 down with less than an hour played.
On sixty five minutes, Motherwell then had a chance of a fourth goal after a counter attack. Ojamaa collected the ball inside his own half before playing a defence splitting pass down the right for Humphrey to latch onto. The winger cut inside and his shot was deflected off the covering Mulgrew and when the ball spun up in the air, Forster had to look lively to palm the ball away to safety.
Neil Lennon made his first substitution just after this incident, bringing on Paddy McCourt for Thomas Rogne, in an attempt to create more from midfield. The big Norwegian defender had a poor game by his own standards and failed to cope with numerous Motherwell breaks.
Again, Motherwell had a golden opportunity to score on seventy minutes, when they broke up a Celtic corner and raced up the pitch. Ojamaa again collected the ball and knocked it low and long for McFadden on the left to chase. He burst through on goal, but maybe had too much time to decide what to do with the ball and he opted for power, by blasting his shot straight at Forster. The Celtic defence was almost non existent and McFadden may have been better squaring the ball to Humphrey had he looked up.
A last throw of the dice by Celtic saw McGeouch on for Rogic and Stokes on for Samaras, but they never looked like threatening the home goal. Motherwell themselves made a couple of changes as they looked to close the game out, with Carswell on for McFadden and Francis-Angol replacing Ojamaa.
A Celtic break in the last minute, saw Mulgrew play a pass through for Stokes on the left, he held the ball up well and his trundling shot came off the base of the right hand post before it was cleared. There were no further incidents and Euan Norris brought the match to an end. A dominant performance by Motherwell, a pretty dire one from Celtic and the result ensures European football for the Lanarkshire club next season.
We had left right on the final whistle as I wanted to get a match programme from the shop. At least getting it from here ensured I got a dry copy!
The wet weather, queue at the turnstiles and the fans standing during the game was unfortunate, however, Fir Park remains a decent venue to watch football. The attendance for this game was just over 7,500 which is a lot lower than normal for this fixture, but it meant the traffic was quieter!
The stadium is set in amongst some up market housing and it is made up of four individual stands, each different in size and construction. The oldest is the Main Stand, renamed in recent years, The Phil O’Donnell Family Stand. It does not run the full length of the pitch, as to the right of it, there is a partially built frame, which has been untouched for years, due to the club having a dispute with a local resident over land issues I understand.
On the left, behind the goal, is the Davie Cooper Stand, which is a single tiered structure for home supporters. Next to this and running parallel with the Main Stand is the East Stand. This was an old terrace that was seated in the 1990s and again this is for the home support only. On the right corner, near the away fans is where most of the noise within the stadium is generated. There are also some executive boxes located at the back of this stand.
Behind the opposite goal, is the domineering South Stand. This is a decent sized two tier stand, with a scoreboard situated in the middle and is for visiting fans.
Fir Park is suitable to the club’s needs and they depend on local support and business to help finance the running of it. Motherwell have looked at various initiatives to encourage fans of all ages to come along and support them.
The staff in the ticket office were helpful and efficient. The official programme is a decent production and the admission price of £25 for parent and child is reasonable for the top division.