Motherwell v Llanelli
Europa League, First Qualifying Round, First Leg
Thursday 2nd July 2009, kick-off 8.05pm
Shyberry Excelsior Stadium, Airdrie
Beginning of July and it's my first match of the season, strangely a competitive one at that. The brand spanking new Europa League (the old UEFA Cup) kicked off with the first qualifying round, first leg matches taking place. The draw paired up Motherwell and Welsh side Llanelli for a British derby. Rather bizarrely both matches wont be played on the clubs respective home grounds. Motherwell's Fir Park is getting work done on it's heavily criticised pitch in preparation for the new season and Llanelli's home ground will struggle the fit in the Steelmen's travelling support so has been moved to a larger local rugby stadium.
Llanelli qualified for the Europa League as Welsh League runners-up. A bit of a different story for Motherwell though as they gained entry via the Fair Play ranking system, even with Maroš 'booking' Klimpl in their side. Llanelli went into the match as massive underdogs with odds of 14-1 on offer. Although, if there was a time to play Motherwell this would be it, key first team players leaving and a new manager only appointed in the days running up to the match.
With the Fir Park pitch currently getting a revamp the match was agreed to be played at rivals Airdrie United's Shyberry Excelsior Stadium. A ground I've visited in the past, it's very much your four stand lego effort, but it's ready for SPL football if Airdrie where to ever get there. The small travelling support was housed in the far corner of the main stand.
Motherwell started brightly, as expected, in the humid conditions, you could tell it was going to be a physically draining contest in the heat. The youthful Motherwell team were keen to get the ball down and play as Llanelli invited the pressure onto them with ten men behind the ball.
Llanelli had an impressive out ball in the form of player-manager Andy Legg's long throw, he was able to get the ball well into the penalty area from the half-way line and was taking them from both sides despite playing left midfield. They were causing chaos in the 'Well defence, and one forced a corner before the half hour mark. Legg, the set-piece specialist then whipped the corner to the back post for Stuart Jones to give them a shock lead against the run of play. Everyone in attendance was shocked, even the Llanelli fans!
The 'Well struggled to get into any rhythm afterwards and the fans were starting to get inpatient as they expected a leisurely stroll in the park. New gaffer Jim Gannon made his first major decision by hooking Keith Lasley at half-time for young winger Paul Slane and reshuffled his 4-2-3-1 formation. The one upfront was John Sutton, younger brother of ex-Celtic player Chris, who seemed to specialise in the offside position, much to everyone's frustration.
The Welsh side defended with ease as the Steelmen failed to create many chances, none clear-cut anyway. They were insistent on playing the patient build-up football that continually broke down and keeping with the failing formation. Late shots from distance from 'Well youngsters Slane and Forbes gave Morris something to do in the Llanelli goal.
An embarrassing debut defeat for Gannon, but a famous victory for Llanelli, their gaffer Andy Legg described it as the clubs best ever. The tie is still in the balance and I'd expect Motherwell to play much better next week in the away leg. The Llanelli players seemed shattered, some even a bit overweight (one very overweight), or perhaps it was all part of their time-wasting ploy. I'll jump off the fence and predict Motherwell will advance and progress onto a Albanian jaunt against Flamurtari, who await the winners.
Further match reports can be found on the BBC Sport, Motherwell and Llanelli websites, as well as Down the Wing blog. The Motherwell website also has some photos from the match and a few of my photos here.
Result: Motherwell 0-1 Llanelli
Motherwell: Fraser, Saunders, Craigan, Reynolds, Hammell, O'Brien (McHugh), Lasley (Slane), Forbes, McGarry, Sutton, Murphy.
Llanelli: Morris, Legg (Warlow), Howard, Jones, Jarman (Thomas), Phillips, Mumford, Corbisiero, Venables, Griffiths, Jones (Follows).
Llanelli: Stuart Jones