Kevin van Veen penalty earns Motherwell narrow win over St Mirren
Caretaker manager Steven Hammell led 10-man Motherwell to their first opening day league win since 2016 as Kevin van Veen’s penalty earned a 1-0 win at St Mirren.
Van Veen struck in the 42nd minute after Scott Tanser had been penalised for handball by referee John Beaton.
The visitors had Ricki Lamie sent off in the 82nd minute but held on for their fourth league win of 2022, half of which have come against St Mirren.
The hosts were left to rue some poor finishing and the brilliance of Motherwell goalkeeper Liam Kelly, who pulled off two outstanding saves.
Hammell had less than 48 hours to prepare for the Paisley trip following the departure of Graham Alexander in the wake of Motherwell’s 3-0 aggregate defeat by Sligo Rovers in the Europa Conference League.
Motherwell’s academy director, who made a post-war record 583 appearances for the club, stuck with Alexander’s preferred 4-3-3 formation but made three changes.
The suspended Callum Slattery dropped out, along with Bevis Mugabi and Ross Tierney, as Sondre Solholm, Sean Goss and Connor Shields came in.
The fixture list pitted Hammell against his former boss and Alexander’s predecessor, Stephen Robinson, who before the game dismissed reports that Motherwell had earmarked him for a Fir Park return as “nonsense”.
Robinson, who fielded six former Motherwell players, was also looking for a lift after St Mirren’s Premier Sports Cup exit.
The opening quarter was scrappy with the main incident being a clash of heads between Mark O’Hara and Paul McGinn. The latter had to go off, handing Stephen O’Donnell an unexpected return to action in the 19th minute. The Scotland right-back’s Fir Park career had looked over after falling out of favour under Alexander and he had not even featured in pre-season.
The game burst into life when Saints created a flurry of chances around the half-hour mark. Jonah Ayunga got in behind but struck well over with his left foot.
Ryan Strain shot over from 10 yards after getting the better of Barry Maguire and Kelly soon pulled off a superb one-handed stop from Ayunga’s header before Solholm did well to stop Alex Greive netting the rebound.
The visitors picked up and Tanser was penalised after blocking Blair Spittal’s shot. The wing-back protested his innocence before Van Veen sent Carson the wrong way from the spot.
O’Hara did not reappear after the interval and Tanser’s miserable day was complete when he pulled a hamstring in the 52nd minute.
Saints created a steady stream of chances. Strain fired well over after a clearance dropped to him in yards of space, Keanu Baccus headed straight at Kelly from 12 yards and Curtis Main headed wide from closer in.
The Motherwell goalkeeper then surpassed his first-half stop by throwing himself to his left to guide Main’s close-range header away from goal.
Lamie was shown a straight red card following a challenge on Baccus before being involved in a scuffle which saw Maguire and Ayunga booked.
Kelly made further saves from Main, Ayunga and Richard Tait as Motherwell held on with the help of a homegrown midfield trio of Maguire, substitute Dean Cornelius and 18-year-old debutant Kian Speirs, who came close with a late curler.
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