Motherwell’s Champions League dream was dealt a shuddering blow as they fell to a demoralising 2-0 defeat to Greek side Panathinaikos at Fir Park.
An early goal from Lazaros Christodoulopoulos and a calm finish from Charis Mavrias consigned the Steelmen to defeat in their first ever appearance in European football’s premier competition, meaning they face a stern test in Athens next week as they attempt to overturn a two-goal deficit.
More than 9,000 fans greeted Motherwell’s players as they walked out. Unfortunately, the rousing reception did little to stem the early Panathinaikos pressure that saw them take a lead after just 13 minutes.
Slack passing along the Motherwell backline led to a foul on Ibrahim Sissoko being committed by Shaun Hutchinson. The resulting freekick was whipped into the box by Christodoulopoulis and as former Rangers defender, Jean Alain-Boumsong ran across the face of goal, the ball ended up in Darren Randolph’s net.
Well captain, Keith Lasley had warned his side against conceding a crucial away goal on Friday, and Christodoulopoulos’ strike noticeably deflated the home side in the minutes that followed.
However, Lasley began to take control of the midfield area, dictating the play and linking Jamie Murphy and Chris Humphrey into Motherwell’s attacking moves.
Humphrey came close to connecting with a Lasley cross to the back post before Lasley himself slashed a shot from 16 yards high and wide of the Panathinaikos goal after a neat interchange with Murphy that saw him glide past Boumsong and into the box.
However, Motherwell’s composure soon deserted them as a series of loose passes forced Randolph to scramble off his line to save a corner kick being conceded. From the resulting throw in, Motherwell conceded possession cheaply once again, allowing Christodoulopoulos time and space on the edge of the box to strike at goal. Fortunately for the home side his shot was comfortably gathered.
A longe range effort from Spanish midfielder, Zeca drew a fingertip save over the bar from Randolph before the break, with Stuart McCall’s side presumably relieved at the arrival of half time.
After the restart Motherwell looked reinvigorated and soon began to push the Greek side back into their own half. Tom Hateley came close with a drive that forced Panathinaikos keeper, Oretis Karnezis into a full stretch diving save.
Nicky Law came even closer minutes later, with his shot from 30 yards coming close to squirming under the body of Karnezis, who was enduring a busy spell.
McCall had clearly instructed his side to apply more pressure on the Greek side, and indeed, Panathinaikos struggled to cope with the high line. However, this left the home side vulnerable on the break, with efforts from substitute Katsouranis and Zeca coming close.
The crippling second goal arrived after 75 minutes through substitute Mavrias. As feared, Motherwell were caught on the break as they pressed for an equaliser, with Sissoko threading through Mavrias, who slid the ball under Randolph with just his second touch and his first involvement in the game.
McCall introduced Omar Daley in an attempt to inject some pace on the left side of midfield but Motherwell, along with their fans, appeared deflated.
A late penalty shout after Michael Higdon’s header appeared to hit Boumsong’s arm in the box was waved away on account of the lineman’s flag as Motherwell sunk to a disappointing defeat.
Motherwell: Randolph, Hammell, Law, Hutchinson, Hateley, Humphrey, Ojamaa (Daley 78) Higdon, Murphy, Lasley, Ramsden. Subs: Hollis, McHugh, Carswell, Francis-Angol, Hetherington, Cummins
Panathinaikos: Karnezis, Sissoko, Boumsong, Vitolo, Toche (Mavrias), Christodoulopoulos (Fornaroli), Zeca, Marinos (Katsouranis), Vyntra, Spyropoulos, Velazquez. Subs: Kotsolis, Seitaridis, Petropoulis, Fourlanos
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