By Euan Wood
Graham Alexander’s Motherwell side cruised to a comfortable 2-0 victory over a lacklustre St Johnstone team plagued with Covid-19 squad limitations, as manager Callum Davidson is tasked with turning around the imminent fortunes McDiarmid Park.
Three more points.
— Motherwell FC (@MotherwellFC) December 18, 2021
Dean Cornelius netted his first Motherwell goal with an exceptional strike, before Kevin Van Veen doubled the Steelmen’s advantage early into the second half.
With a commanding result over a very difficult side, Graham Alexander was left delighted with his squads impressive display: “It wasn’t [comfortable]. St Johnstone are in a difficult moment, but they are still a good team with a very good manager. They don’t give up games, and we mentioned that at half time, we didn’t think one nil would be enough.
“So, I thought it was brilliant that we had to stay on the front foot, try to get that second one to give us an opportunity to manage the rest of the game in the manner that we did, and every single player contributes to that, especially the substitutions who came on. They really enhanced the performance that we needed at that particular time.”
“It’s just the points, that’s all we are looking at, we have to keep piling on more if we can because it won’t always be plain sailing. We know we won’t win all the games so, when we have opportunities to do it, we have to take them.”
Frustrated with the performance, Callum Davidson has demanded hard work from his players to escape the growing threat of relegation:“That for me is really hard to take today. As a group we said in there, how do you get out of it?
“For me it is all about hard work and sticking together. We need to make sure everybody is pulling in the same direction; we can’t have seven or eight players doing it and nobody else following them.
“This was a huge game today; they are all huge at the moment. It is my responsibility to get the confidence back up, get the enthusiasm and energy that they had at the start of the season. It is my job to get them back there.
“It has been a disappointing run of results and I take responsibility for that. Team selection has been hindered a few times, but we need to take the players back onto that energy level and commitment and we’ve got to make sure they are at it on Wednesday.”
It was a quiet opening period of the game with both sides struggling to maintain possession in the early stages.
— Motherwell FC (@MotherwellFC) December 18, 2021
Motherwell came close to the opener in the second minute as Liam Donnelly’s free kick, deep into the Saints half, floated invitingly towards the back post, but Zander Clark reacted quickly to punch the ball clear of any danger.
The hosts then opened the scoring midway through the first half as lifelong Motherwell supporter, Cornelius, netted his first senior goal in claret and amber.
A clever interchange of play between Nathan McGinley and Sean Goss left the midfielder unmarked on the left and his curling delivery fell kindly to Cornelius at the edge of the box, who calmly placed his effort past Zander Clark into the bottom left corner.
The visitors almost brought themselves level 10-minutes from half-time after an exquisite piece of individual skill from Viv Solomon-Otabor. The forward skilfully worked his way past Stephen O’Donnell before firing across goal, but Stevie May couldn’t react quick enough to divert his effort past Liam Kelly from a yard out.
Looking to build on their slim advantage, the Steelmen started brightly and deservedly doubled their lead 10-minutes into the second half.
Sondre Solholm-Johansen’s perfectly weighted through ball expertly picked out Van Veen with his back to goal. The strikers intuitive change of direction allowed him to easily wriggle himself past Liam Gordon before unleashing his strike towards goal. His powerful effort inadvertently ricocheted off Gordon, which wrong-footed Clark, leaving the Saints stopper with no chance.
With time ticking away in the dying stages of the game, St Johnstone came close to a small consolation with substitute Michael O’Halloran injecting life into a side that appeared to be void of any new ideas.
O’Halloran skilfully worked his way into the box, beating McGinley for pace on the right, but Solholm-Johansen reacted quickly to block the low cross from reaching the feet of May, who would’ve only required the slightest of touches to pull a goal back for the visitors.
Nevertheless, the Steelmen stood resolute to record a crucial result which sees Graham Alexander’s side ascend the Premiership table into fourth, five points shy of Hearts in third.
Here are three things we learned as St Johnstone’s seven game winless run continues after defeat to Motherwell at Fir Park:
Dean Cornelius, the lifelong Motherwell supporter was a deserving recipient of the man of the match award, as he netted his first Motherwell goal in only his second professional start this season.
Alexander could not contain his delight for the young midfielder after full time:
“He made his first start at Hibs, and he still trained exceptionally well even though he wasn’t in the team last week, but we just felt with the type of game it was, he gives us all the things we want. I think it is his home league debut start and it’s a great way to mark it with a fantastic finish.
“I saw the video of him the other day up in the stands and also when he was like eight years old in a Motherwell kit. So, that’s brilliant and that’s what this club is about. He loves the club; he trains exceptionally well every day and we know what a good player he could possibly be.
“He’s still got a lot to learn and a lot to improve, but I know he will put all the work in to make those improvements happen.”
Budget Bergkamp scores again
Kevin Van Veen his quickly cemented himself as a cult hero within North Lanarkshire. The 30-year-old Dutch striker has netted five goals since his transfer from Scunthorpe United last summer and has since become an integral part of Alexander’s squad this season.
Van Veen was elated to get back on the scoresheet after a short spell without finding the net: “It’s a good win, the performance wasn’t the best, but at the end of the day: three points, two nil, clean sheet. I think we are all happy with the win, but there is still lots to improve.
“I just tried to do my best, it was a good ball from Sol in behind, I did a little shimmy and put it away nicely to give us a bit of a cushion and I think it was a very important goal at the right time.
“I do think I’ve got a lot of ability and it is for me to show that every week, but first and foremost for me it is the work rate. To press defenders and work hard for my team then my ability will show eventually. So, that is my mindset, to work hard for my team, be tough to play against and when I get the ball, I need to show what I am capable of.”
Saints continue winless run
Callum Davidson will be left feeling frustrated as his side extend their winless run to six league games. The Saints struggled to create any real opportunities or pose any significant threat to the hosts throughout.
His side lacked the hunger, desire and attacking capabilities that consistently impressed last season as they looked like a mere shadow of the team that achieved an unpredictable cup double. St Johnstone currently sit rock bottom of the Scottish Premiership, a point behind Ross County, who they will face in a crucial clash this Wednesday.
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