IT was a tale of two clubs at Fir Park on Saturday afternoon; one looking to the best of times, one fearing the worst.
St Johnstone’s warm-up ahead of their first League Cup final since 1998 couldn’t really have gone any more to plan. Other than the precautionary removal of David Wotherspoon from the fray in the second period with one eye on Hampden there was nothing to give Callum Davidson any indigestion.
His counterpart, however, left the ground significantly more agitated.
Graham Alexander could point to his treatment room bursting at the seams with bodies – he was without 13 first-team players – but he was at a loss to explain the lack of fight, heart and spirit about a performance which was thoroughly abject.
If the derby defeat to Hamilton left them cowed, there was no response against St Johnstone as they offered up more of the same. Their only crumb of comfort was that Kilmarnock and Hamilton also lost and couldn’t put further pressure on them.
But now just five points off bottom of the table Ross County, there is much to fear for Motherwell who look devoid of any battling qualities.
Such was the nature of the display that on-loan QPR goalkeeper Liam Kelly admitted that it had left him mortified.
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“I’m really embarrassed to be honest,” said the Scotland under-21 internationalist. “We got what we deserved. We never started the game, it was terrible. We were hurting from last week and all week the manager spoke of the importance of this game.
“But it was soft, passive, everything the manager doesn’t want us to be. Everything we weren’t prior to Hamilton.
“We are where we are and we’re the only ones that can dig us out of it. We’re not thinking about anything other than the St Mirren game [on Wednesday night]because that’s huge for us now.
“I can’t speak for other people, I don’t know what their feelings are. But this has to mean absolutely everything to you.
“A few weeks ago we were being spoken about in terms of the top six. But if we play like that, and the way we did last week, we’ve got no chance of making the top six.”
While Motherwell will face up to their game in Paisley against a St Mirren side who are intent on nudging Dundee united out of that top six place, St Johnstone’s week has an entirely different hue.
The McDiarmid Park side are playing in only their third ever League Cup final and go into it with the wind at their back. Israeli forward Guy Melamed netted a beautiful opening goal after the increasingly impressive Shaun Rooney had set it up before supplementing his afternoon’s work with a penalty five minutes after the break.
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In between times Jason Kerr netted after a calamitous bit of defending, albeit that the Fir Park side could point to Rooney being in an offside position. Their frustrations that the goal stood, however, owed as much to the insipid nature of their performance as anything else.
Melamed enjoyed his brace but is not entirely sure of whether it’s enough to hand him a starting jersey for Hampden on Sunday.
“I haven’t been involved in too many of the cup games and I didn’t play in the semi-final,” said the 24-year-old. “But now I feel very involved in the team.
“That is showing in the way I’m playing. Now I want to score in the cup final and help my team win.
“I had a cup final in Israel two years ago [with Maccabi Netanya],” said Melamed. “I scored in the final but we lost on penalties. I had the best feeling of my life in this game and then 20 minutes later I had the worst feeling of my life. It was a very emotional game.
“The best goal of my career was in a cup final and hopefully I can get another one but with a different result. The experience of playing in a final before will definitely help me. I like to feel the pressure. If you have pressure on you it means you are in a good place.”