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Motherwell 1 Kilmarnock 2: Grounded visitors glide to points as delayed victory role denies high flyers

ALEXEI EREMENKO'S swagger is not just restricted to the pitch.

Kilmarnock team-mates congratulate Rory McKenzie as he gets them on the board. Picture: SNS
Kilmarnock team-mates congratulate Rory McKenzie as he gets them on the board. Picture: SNS

The Finn's showmanship with a ball at his feet has helped make him a cult figure during two spells with Kilmarnock, and off the field he is usually just as assured and confident. Hearing him admit, then, that he had messed up in the latter stages of his side's win over Motherwell on Saturday, and had team-mate Craig Slater to thank for getting him out of a jam, came as something of a surprise.

The match was level at 1-1 - Iain Vigurs' first-half goal had been cancelled out by Rory McKenzie - and had just drifted into injury time when Kris Boyd played in Eremenko on the edge of the Motherwell penalty box.

Most players would have either leathered a shot as hard as they could or tried to place it past the goalkeeper but Eremenko is not most players. Instead, the playmaker attempted to chip Gunnar Nielsen from about 15 yards, the ball sailing over the goalkeeper's head but then landing on top of the crossbar. Eremenko's extravagance had looked like costing his side two precious points.

"After I shot, I thought it would end 1-1 as we were in overtime already," he said. "I was running from the halfway line and was dead. I was just thinking what I was going to do if Boyd gave me the ball. It came and I saw the 'keeper coming. I knew if I hit it well, it was a goal for sure.

"But I didn't hit it that well and it hit the bar. If the goalkeeper hadn't come out I wouldn't have chipped it. He was provoking me as he was a bit off his line. In training I would score that 20 out of 20 times but games are different and the pitch is different here as well. We train on artificial and this is grass. Maybe I should have taken it down with one touch and shot with another, but on the other hand if I'd scored it would have been one of the best goals I've scored."

Regrets soon turned to celebration, however, after Slater's run and shot in the 95th minute sealed an away win. "Craig saved me there because it was a very important three points for us," added Eremenko. "I said to Craig 'thank God you scored' because I knew for sure if he hadn't scored I would never hear the end of it. I should have scored for sure. Craig is a special young talent. He has good vision and passing, and his workrate is excellent. He reminds me of Craig Bryson as well from when I was here before. He's got a big future if he continues to work like this."

The victory leaves Kilmarnock five points clear of 11th place and was achieved with a performance that stuck to Allan Johnston's passing football blueprint. "It was a very important win," said Eremenko. "We went there and played well against a good team who haven't lost at home in a long time. Our last few games haven't been that good but I think we won pretty well.

"It was a good performance - it's not as if we won luckily. We played the ball on the ground - just the way I like it - and I think most of the people on the pitch like to play that way too. I said before that it's difficult to play football now, especially when the team is low and people are nervous and scared to pass the ball, but we've shown we can go out and have confidence."

For Motherwell, this was a blow to their aspirations of finishing in second place in the league, although manager Stuart McCall later insisted his sights are set only on achieving a European place. Team captain Keith Lasley confirmed the players have the same target.

"We know how important Europe is financially for the club and the implications for the manager's budget," he said. "From a football perspective it's something to aspire to. We've had a taste of it here in previous years and it's something that's great to be involved in.

"For a club of our size and stature to be fighting for it again at this stage of the season is a credit. It's something we'll strive for again and if we manage it it'll be a big achievement. We're still in the fight and we're happy to be in the fight. We need to regroup and go again."

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