Johnny be good while Jamie be out of luck...

JUST how big a week in Motherwell's season this will turn out to be remains to be seen, but the sense of an opportunity missed was evident at Fir Park last night.

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Dundee United's Johnny Russell, right, celebrates his goal with team-mate Jon Daly
Dundee United's Johnny Russell, right, celebrates his goal with team-mate Jon Daly

After recording their best ever first start to an SPL season, the Steelmen suffered an alarming drop in form triggered by a Scottish Communities League Cup exit defeat by Rangers that led to a three-game hangover in the SPL that saw Well plummet to eighth in the table.

Galvanised by a fine victory at St Johnstone, the chance to reclaim further lost ground was presented by last night's visit of Dundee United, in a game that had been re-scheduled after it had initially been cancelled due to a power failure.

With Dundee due up at Fir Park on Saturday, the importance of recording back-to-back positive results to springboard Well into that game with Barry Smith's side was underlined pre-match by manager Stuart McCall, who stressed the need to retain form from the success at Perth.

Yet ultimately this painful 1-0 defeat will provide a further test of character given the amount of chances Motherwell both created and spurned.

With United languishing in tenth place and their hosts a mundane sixth in the SPL, there was no doubt that both these sides were occupying positions prior to kick-off that poorly reflect the quality within their ranks.

A fact reinforced by the Fir Park men's comprehensive destruction of St Johnstone and United's gutsy fight-back against champions Celtic in their previous respective outings.

But it was Motherwell who came out the traps quickest and inside the opening minute Jamie Murphy cut inside from the left flank and unleashed a 20-yard drive that Radoslaw Cierzniak did well to save low down to his right.

Well continued to press just moments later when Nicky Law's back-post delivery found Michael Higdon. The targetman laid it back for Murphy to blast home from close range but Cierzniak saved brilliantly.

After turning in a hugely impressive performance in the Steelmen's three-goal victory on Saturday, Murphy's confidence was clearly up.

Showing a determination to use his direct running and change of pace to unsettle the Tannadice defence, the ex-Scotland Under-21 internationalist once again skipped passed Keith Watson to draw a superb tip over from Cierzniak.

Perhaps it has taken the 23-year-old time to mentally re-group after a move south did not materialise following his 13-goals season at Fir Park last term, but on this form he looks to be back to his best and ready to once again hit the heights with Well.

However, with 20 minutes gone Well conceded a free-kick on the edge of the box and former Motherwell man Gavin Gunning's rising drive drew a brilliant save from Darren Randolph who then denied Jon Daly on the follow up with another top stop.

Six minutes before the break Henrik Ojamaa almost brought the Well support to their feet with a rasping right-foot rocket that was brilliantly tipped onto the bar by Cierzniak as the big Pole continued to keep the hosts out.

While a temporary lull ensued after the break, it did not take Well long to regain their earlier upper-hand.

Skipper Keith Lasley's threaded pass sent Ojamaa through just moments after the interval, but although he beat Cierzniak for once the post saved United.

With the game passing the two thirds mark United were only denied when Randolph somehow stopped a Willo Flood effort and Stevie Hammell completed a desperate goal-line clearance.

The goalmouth action continued to come thick and fast and Higdon should have done better with a 10-yard snap shot that was straight at Cierzniak.

United continued to threaten on the counter and with just six minutes left Tannadice sub Rudi Skacel picked out Johnny Russell with a fine cross and the striker gave Randolph no chance with a fine header.

It was a classic sucker punch, and how it hurt for Well.

While the Steelmen can take some solace from the quality of their play and the number of chances they created, the visit of the other half of the City of Discovery on Saturday afternoon has now taken on extra significance.

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