Motherwell booked their place in the Scottish Cup final with a comfortable 3-0 win over St. Johnstone at Hampden Park. Despite the three goal margin, Stuart McCall’s side didn’t have to perform to the best of their capabilities to see off their opponents. All three goals were avoidable and included two goalkeeping errors from Peter Enckleman, who we know is no stranger to a blunder or two.
Teams and formations
St. Johnstone welcomed Jody Morris back into the centre of midfield with Chris Millar missing through injury. They lined up 4-1-4-1 with Morris patrolling the area just in front of the defence and Colin Samuel leading the line. St. Johnstone’s midfield was quite narrow considering there was five of them, with Liam Craig and Danny Invincible more inclined to drift inside than stay out wide.
Motherwell started in a 4-4-2 formation that often looked like a 4-2-3-1 when Chris Humphrey and Jamie Murphy pushed on and either Francis Jeffers or John Sutton dropped deep. Keith Lasley and Steve Jennings sat deep for the most part, allowing the wingers to play higher up the pitch, and dominated despite a man disadvantage in that area. At times the numerical advantage was negated by one of the strikers, usually Jeffers, dropping deep to keep tabs on Morris. The other alternative would have been for either Lasley or Jennings to come and meet him, which consequently would have left space for Kevin Moon or Murray Davidson to exploit, but they resisted this and remained disciplined.
Motherwell gifted two goals early on
For the first few minutes it looked as if St. Johnstone were going to take the game to their opponents. They almost opened the scoring through an Invincible header after a Danny Grainger free kick but their bright start was undone after only five minutes when Enckleman came for a Tom Hateley corner and completely missed the ball, allowing Stephen Craigen to nod the ball home from a standing position. The finger can also be pointed at Invincible who was caught ball-watching and left the Northern Ireland international unmarked.
The match was over as a contest when Murphy put Motherwell 2-0 up after fourteen minutes. It was a well taken goal from the 21-year-old but the goal, again, could have been avoided. After a lucky break following a poor Craigen pass, Motherwell bypassed the St. Johnstone midfield all too easily. Sutton then dropped deep and fed Murphy, who cut inside with a diagonal run. Michael Duberry looked to have Murphy in his sights but was impeded by fellow centre-half Steven Anderson before Murphy finished well from the edge of the box.
Two shots for Motherwell = two goals. All without having to massively outplay their opponents. Game over.
St. Johnstone offer nothing going forward
Predictably, Motherwell then became more inclined to sit deep, allow St. Johnstone possession and hit on the counter attack. Morris was now seeing plenty of the ball although there were several occasions where he was visibly frustrated by the lack of options in front of him. You could see that after waiting for some movement in order to pass the ball forward, he would turn and play a sideways or backwards pass before shrugging his shoulders or stretching his arms out in a ‘what am I supposed to do’ manner.
Samuel looked isolated up front but to be fair he never really offered his teammates any option. He looked sluggish and rarely got into space. The few times he did drop deep or wide, the midfielders very rarely attempted to get beyond him. All St. Johnstone’s first half chances came from set-pieces.
Another goalkeeping error made it 3-0 going into half time. A long punt up-field from Darren Randolph was nodded down by Jeffers and hit by Sutton on the volley from around twenty-five yards. Enckleman’s positioning was so poor that he struggled to get across his goal and could only get a hand to it on its way into the net.
A mostly uneventful Second half
After the third goal St. Johnstone moved Invincible up front and Moon to right midfield, switching to 4-4-2. At half time Samuel was replaced by Jordan Robertson, who done more for his side after ten minutes on the pitch than Samuel had managed in forty-five, and stuck with the formation they had ended the first half with.
With two target men in attack, St. Johnstone were now more inclined to hit long balls but after a while their play settled and they enjoyed long periods of possession but again without creating much. Keith Lasley admitted post-match that Motherwell were happy to spend the second half focusing on not conceding a goal rather than adding to their tally.
A few substitutions for either side failed to change the outcome of the match or add to the scoring. St. Johnstone managed to string together a few decent passing moves with Davidson the main driving force. The same player struck the bar with a header late on but it was too little too late from a side who had gifted the win to their opponents very early on in the match.
Starting with a extra man in the centre of midfield should have caused St. Johnstone to dominate that area, but three factors – (i) Jeffers and Sutton taking turns to drop deep and pick up Morris, (ii) the fact that Jennings and Lasley were better on the day, and (iii) that the more attacking Motherwell players offered their midfielders more options – meant that Lasley and Jennings dominated.
The second half was little more than Motherwell sitting back and protecting their lead and St. Johnstone huffing and puffing but to no avail.