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Motherwell 5-1 Glentoran: Stephen Robinson’s men deliver Champions League sucker punch

What a welcome panacea this eventually proved to be for the many ills that have hampered Motherwell’s season to date.

Five goals, all of them coming in the second half, five different scorers, and a new system successfully piloted into the bargain, this comfortable progression to the second qualifying round of the Europa League might just prove to be the start of something.

Four long enough, however, it threatened to be yet another extremely sticky episode.

Just as Stephen Robinson had predicted, Glentoran, the men from Belfast, were not without their qualities.

Indeed, had they not been forced to play the final 38 minutes a man light after Seanan Clucas’ senseless dismissal, they might well have tested Motherwell’s nerve.

Yet within six minutes of the Glentoran midfielder taking the long walk, his side’s resistance was broken. From the point Callum Lang broke their hearts with a smart conversion from close range, it was only a question of how many.

Stephen O’Donnell, Liam Polworth, Tony Watt and Chris Long punished the men from Northern Ireland in a manner that will have pleased their manager no end.

A first win of the season and just a second in 16 matches eventually arrived in some style and, from Robinson’s perspective, not a moment too soon.

Life without David Turnbull began with a little experimentation – Robinson adopting a three-at-the-back formation in the hope of dominating the Irish Cup holders.

It was quickly evident, however, that this one-off tie would be no formality. Although limited in some areas, the men from Belfast had a spark up front in Robbie McDaid, the one-time Leeds player, and defensive insurance in Gael Bigirimana, the former Motherwell midfielder.

Anxious to net his first goal of the campaign, Long fired an early opening from the right side of the box just beyond the far post.

Liam Grimshaw’s corner was thumped towards goal by the boot of Long. If only Bevis Mugabi hadn’t taken the sting out of it, Dale Coleing, the visiting keeper, wouldn’t have been able to shovel it round the post.

Glentoran were not without their early moments. When Mugabi only half cleared Bigirimana’s deep free-kick, Marcus Kane fired the ball straight into Trevor Carson’s arms. A case of the wrong man in the right place for the full-back.

More encouragement for Mick McDermott’s men came via a Paul O’Neill strike from the edge of the box which deceived Carson after deflecting up off Gallagher. Ruaidhri Donnelly’s attempt to convert O’Neill’s cross with a header then saw the home keeper smother the ball on his line.

Although O’Donnell, playing here at left wing-back, did work Coleing with a smart shot on the turn and Allan Campbell saw a close-range strike deflected over, there was little between the sides as the half-time whistle approached.

A needless early booking for Clucas aside – Ricki Lamie was fortunate not to pick up a serious injury – the first period could scarcely have gone better for the visitors. Motherwell’s poor domestic form was threatening to bleed into their first European campaign in six years.

The malaise proved hard to shift. When Polworth was barged off the ball by Chris Gallagher, Mark O’Hara spotted the ball expectantly. His effort didn’t even make it over the wall.

Seven minutes into the second half, though, the Scots were handed a numerical advantage as a result of Clucas picking up a second booking and his marching orders for scything into O’Donnell. Not that you would have initially known it.

Twice in a minute the Glentoran bench were up anticipating the net bulging – first when O’Neill fired Chris Gallagher’s cross over the bar then when McDaid slightly misjudged Bigirimana’s corner.

Truthfully, Motherwell’s opener just before the hour mark came out of the blue. O’Donnell hadn’t seen too much of the ball all night but he played a delightful pass round the corner to open up the Glentoran defence. Lang finished beyond Coleing with a cute flick.

A goal to the good and with Glentoran rapidly tiring as a result of going down to 10-men, Motherwell commendably put this one to bed in short order.

Having been the provider at the first goal, O’Donnell had absolutely no intentions of repeating the trick when a half cleared corner landed at his feet 25 yards out. What a strike he produced with his right foot, the ball arrowing beyond Coleing and flying in just under the bar.

Having missed the target from just four yards out moments before, Long’s saw another shot parried by the visiting keeper. This one fell straight into the path of Polmont who stooped to head home the third.

Glentoran were now all over the place. Tony Watt climbed off the bench and got his name on the scoresheet with a tap-in three minutes later after Campbell had had a shot saved.

Lamie struck the bar but we weren’t done yet. Long finally got the goal he’d long threatened to by glancing Watt’s cross home.

McDaid got a crumb of consolation for the visitors by converting a 90th minute penalty but this remained a good night’s work for Robinson’s side.

Monday’s draw will doubtless bring a more taxing assignment but they at least now have some wind in their sails. 

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