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Aberdeen 0 Motherwell 1: Points prove a steal as visitors vault into second and losers count cost of 'smash and grab' raid

Motherwell have, almost furtively, eased themselves into second place in the SPFL Premiership table.

Lionel Ainsworth celebrates his goal. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS
Lionel Ainsworth celebrates his goal. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS

Their victory meant they have not lost at Pittodrie in five years, and was completed with aplomb as they capitalised on the impatience of the home side to find the elusive opening goal. Aberdeen were effectively mugged by the pace and power of Henri Anier, who created the opportunity for Lionel Ainsworth to strike early in the second half.

If Stuart McCall, the Motherwell manager, was overjoyed by the win, he did not show it - despite it having been achieved without the input of centre-back Stephen McManus, who withdrew on the morning of the game because of a swollen foot.

"I would have been easier for us to have gone to Aberdeen and played 4-5-1," McCall said, "but we chose not to do that. We wanted to carry a threat to Aberdeen because we didn't have a lot of the ball.

"For us, as a group, it's the first time we have beaten anyone in the top six, so that puts the hoodoo to bed. I wouldn't say the three points were well merited, but we're grateful for them and we move on."

McCall made light of his side's place in the table, believing positions will fluctuate as the season continued to evolve. "That now gives us three games on the bounce," he added, "after an horrendous period when we went out of the Scottish Cup [to Albion Rovers] and the home defeats we had. Lesser teams might have crumbled but I've said all along that we have good, strong characters in the dressing room and that's what you need when everyone's writing you off and you're taking the flak, which we deserved at the time."

There was enough attractive football on show in the opening 45 minutes to hold the attention of the crowd and keep them entertained, although they could not have been blamed for being frustrated because of the lack of a killer punch, particularly from the home side, who dominated without being able to break down a resolute Motherwell defence.

Niall McGinn was Aberdeen's main threat, taunting and teasing the opposition from wide areas and always endeavouring to create opportunities for his team-mates, as he did early on top give Jonny Hayes a chance at the back post. The Irishman, deployed at left-back to accommodate the loss of Clark Robertson, Andrew Considine and Mark Reynolds through injury, failed to the hit the target with his header.

Worryingly for the home side, John Sutton, the Fir Park striker, easily evaded Russell Anderson, his only marker, to accept Keith Lasley's ball into the area, only to fluff his finish.

Aberdeen then came close to taking the lead just before the break as McGinn was sent clear in the area by Willo Flood, but the Northern Irishman's strike was saved by Dan Twardzik, the Motherwell goalkeeper.

Barry Robson's roving role for the home side did little to disturb Motherwell's game plan, and they would have been pleased to take their half-time cuppa knowing that, for all their possession, Aberdeen had failed to inflict damage.

The home side paid for such profligacy three minutes into the second half as they naively left themselves in jeopardy by throwing too many personnel into attack at a corner kick. Their defence threadbare, Anier broke down the left before feeding the waiting Ainsworth, who bulleted home his strike from 12 yards.

Joe Shaughnessy's long-range drive called upon the acrobatic ability of Twardzik, a stand-out performer for the visitors, and once a short-term employee at Pittodrie in the later stages of Craig Brown's term as manager.

Moments later it was Shaughnessy's defensive abilities that were called upon as he challenged Anier in front of goal, just as the Estonian was preparing to shoot.

The pattern of the game was thus confirmed as one where the home side would charge forward and pummel their opponents, hoping in vain to beat a goalkeeper rejected by Derek McInnes, the Aberdeen manager, but who frustrated them on several occasions.

"We were by far the more dominant team," McInnes said, "but what we needed on the back of that were goals and we missed two or three opportunities from good play.

"We lost a really untidy goal which helped invigorate Motherwell. We still asked questions of them and we looked the team more likely to score. I don't think Jamie Langfield, our 'keeper, had a save to make and to me it feels like a bit smash and grab."

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