Motherwell 0-1 Sligo Rovers - Stuttering Steelmen slide to shock home Euro defeat
A below par Motherwell side went down 1-0 at home to Irish outfit Sligo Rovers in Thursday’s Europa Conference League second qualifying round encounter.
The decisive moment came after 26 minutes when home defender Bevis Mugabi was disastrously short with a header back to keeper Liam Kelly and Aidan Keena – formerly of Hearts and Falkirk – scored with a fine lob.
It means that Graham Alexander’s team have it all to do when the sides meet again in Ireland next Thursday night.
Yet the obvious disappointment among home fans in the bumper 7227 crowd at full-time – boos were heard ringing out – was in sharp contrast to the mood of optimism pre-kick-off.
An immaculate looking Fir Park pitch – with the far side slope newly levelled off since last season – hosted a contest which saw a healthy home support create a raucous atmosphere inside the stadium.
But a dramatic start saw Sligo – who finished third in the League of Ireland Premier Division last season – almost silence the Well Bois after just 30 seconds when Will Fitzgerald blazed over from close range after a cross from the right.
With barely a minute on the clock, new Motherwell signing Josh Morris shot into the side netting at the other end after good build-up play between Connor Shields and Kevin van Veen, who played despite having been an injury doubt pre-match.
After ’Well’s Jake Carroll had been booked for a late tackle, Sligo went close to scoring when Kelly saved from Lewis Banks after a cross from the left.
As the frantic pace continued, Motherwell were gifted an opportunity when a misplaced pass in midfield allowed van Veen to advance but his final delivery evaded Morris in the middle.
The former Scunthorpe United player was able to tee up Carroll whose long ranger was saved.
After Keena's goal, ’Well almost levelled just before the interval when Shields steered the ball wide from point blank range after Morris’s delivery.
Away keeper Luke McNicholas – playing after first choice goalie Edward McGinty was sold to Oxford United – rushed out to deny van Veen a chance on 48 minutes.
Morris had a long range free-kick saved before substitute Ross Tierney shot into the side netting from a Morris pass.
Blair Spittal set up Slattery for a shot from distance which was saved, before Sligo sub Max Mata miscontrolled when sent through on goal.
Mugabi nearly made amends for his earlier mistake but his header from a Slattery free-kick went wide.
There was then another let-off for the Steelmen when Mata’s back post header appeared to strike Carroll’s arm in the box but nothing was given.
The final notable action came at the other end when Morris nodded over after a cross from the right by fellow new signing Paul McGinn.
Motherwell: Kelly, Morris, Lamie, McGinn, Mugabi, Slattery, van Veen, Carroll, Maguire, Spittal (Efford 74), Shields (Tierney 64).
Sligo: McNicholas, Banks, Kirk, Buckley, Blaney, Cawley, McDonnell (Mata 77), Morahan, Keena, O’Sullivan, Fitzgerald.