Thursday, July 28, 2022

By Ronnie Esplin, PA

Motherwell’s Europa Conference League aspirations ended in embarrassment as another defeat by Sligo Rovers saw them exit the second qualifying round 3-0 on aggregate.

Graham Alexander’s men trailed 1-0 from the first leg at Fir Park and the return match at The Showgrounds had just entered its fourth minute when defender Shane Blaney curled in a delightful free-kick from 25 yards to double that lead.

Motherwell’s response was poor and a performance that lacked conviction and quality was made worse when substitute Max Mata added a second in added time for a 2-0 win which drew further ire and anger from the 300 Well supporters.

The battling home side deserved their win and will meet Viking in the next round.

By contrast, it was a miserable night for the Steelmen who will begin their cinch Premiership campaign away to St Mirren on Sunday under a European cloud and boss Alexander will come under the spotlight.

The pressure was on the Steelmen going into the game and, while John Russell’s side were unchanged, the visitors made one change with Ross Tierney in for Connor Shields.

The match was still settling down when the League of Ireland Premier Division outfit took the lead, after Well defender Bevis Mugabi clumsily conceded a free-kick for a challenge on former Falkirk striker Aiden Keena, who scored the only goal at Fir Park.

Blaney stepped up and, to the delight of the Rovers fans, whipped in a shot which sailed over Motherwell keeper Liam Kelly and into the top corner.

In the 13th minute Well defender Ricki Lamie had the ball in the net following a Blair Spittal free-kick into the Sligo box but Swedish referee Bojan Pandzic ruled an infringement for offside.

Motherwell lacked creativity and cohesion and could not make any real headway.

And five minutes from the break, after Niall Morahan put a cross into the Motherwell box, Keena pounced on the loose ball but saw a close-range drive from six yards saved by Kelly.

Shields replaced Spittal for the start of the second half but it made no discernible difference.

Indeed, in the 58th minute it took a saving tackle from Motherwell’s Barry Maguire to prevent David Cawley from scoring a breakaway second, following a strong run by Will Fitzgerald.

Alexander brought on Joseph Efford, Sean Goss and Sondre Solholm Johansen on for Maguire, Tierney and Mugabi but to no avail.

In the 75th minute Efford fired a volley over from eight yards with an effort which was in keeping with a dismal night for Well before Lamie headed into the ground and over the bar.

The evening was to get worse for the visitors.

As the game entered added time, Mata, on for Morahan in the 69th minute, ran on to a Keena pass to slip the ball low past Kelly to seal a famous win as Sligo reached the third qualifying round of European qualification for the first time.

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