STUART McCALL, the Motherwell manager, had warned his team all week about the dangers of being hit on the break, being caught on the hop when it looks like you have everything under control.

If only they had listened a little harder.

We were only a matter of minutes into the game last night when Motherwell had been sliced wide open by a counter-attack and not even two goals from debutant Josh Law could protect the Fir Park side from having defensive shortcomings brutally exposed by their part-time visitors from Iceland.

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Although their two goals were to come from penalties from Ola Finsen, Stjarnan deserved this result.

They did have to weather a storm of sorts during the first half, but Motherwell failed to maintain the concentration levels their manager had made such great play of speaking about pre-match and you could almost sense the panic within their ranks whenever Finsen or the veteran forward Veigar Pall Gunnarsson, technically gifted and growing in belief, got on the ball after the break.

Had Motherwell held on to their 2-1 advantage, you might be a little more optimistic about their prospects of succeeding on a plastic pitch in Gardabaer next Thursday. Yet, the way this match ended, with the visitors scoring in stoppage-time, summed up Motherwell's display.

Simon Ramsden felt he should have been awarded a penalty when he was impeded in the area. It was not given. As Motherwell dwelled on the perceived injustice of that decision, Stjarnan broke upfield and won a penalty of their own when Keith Lasley, guilty of handball at the first spot-kick, tugged the shirt of substitute Rolf Toft inside the area.

Finsen sent Dan Twardzik the wrong way from 12 yards, just as he had before, and the silence that descended on Fir Park said everything. A tie which looked done and dusted now threatens to prove a bridge too far.

The warning signs were there after four minutes in, though. A largely aimless clearance had made its way to Gunnarsson in midfield and it became clear the home side had been sprung the minute he sprayed the ball right to Arnar Mar Bjorgvinsson.

Even when Bjorgvinsson had overcooked his cross, Dan Laxdal had time to gather the ball on the left and pick out Gunnarsson inside the area. With the goal at his mercy, he somehow contrived to put his header wide of the near post.

The shock seemed to spark McCall's side into life, at least, and two goals within a 10-minute spell from Law, the brother of former Fir Park favourite Nicky, appeared to have placed one foot in the third qualifying round.

His first effort on nine minutes, which ended a seven-game goalless run in UEFA competition for the Lanarkshire side, was born of sheer opportunism. Lasley found John Sutton with a lovely cross from the right and the striker outmuscled Niclas Vemmelund to direct a firm, low header towards goal. Ingvar Jonsson, the Stjarnan goalkeeper, could only palm the ball out to Law and he finished with some glee.

While his debut goal could be termed a little messy, his second was quite lovely. It started with Vemmelund slipping and gifting possession to Iain Vigurs, the midfielder then threading a diagonal pass through the visiting defence for Law to produce a delicate, dinked finish as sweet as the Jelly Tot on an Empire biscuit.

Stuart Carswell then missed a wonderful chance as everyone inside the ground prepared for a cricket score. That was, until a penalty decision changed the flow of the game.

Lasley, kneeling on the turf as he attempted to clear a deflected shot from Gunnarsson, was adjudged to have handled the ball by the Danish referee Michael Johansen. Twardzik, offered even less in the way of resistance as he was beaten by Finsen.

Not long afterwards, Finsen was denied another goal only by a last-gasp tackle from Craig Reid, while Bjorgvinsson was next to benefit from some poor defending when he found himself clean through on goal. Twardzik did well to block his shot.

The home side did begin brightly after the break as McManus forced a decent block from Jonsson, but slack passing and defensive frailties were exposed again a little before the hour-mark.

Bjorgvinsson then picked out Finsen inside the six-yard area and he really should have put the Icelandic side on level terms rather than send his effort past a post.

Vigurs was most annoyed at being flagged offside on 59 minutes before converting a neat one-two with Law, but the whistle had been blown long before he side-footed the ball into the net. Lasley then had a decent effort saved with 12 minutes remaining, but his evening had even greater horrors in store. "I have no complaints about the penalties," said McCall. "We are probably fortunate that Las was not sent off."