Europa League - St Johnstone win in Minsk but Motherwell lose

Steven MacLean handed St Johnstone a precious away goal as they continued their Europa League adventure with a narrow 1-0 win over FC Minsk.

PA Sport Report
Europa League - St Johnstone win in Minsk but Motherwell lose

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Steven MacLean's goal secured the victory

But Motherwell suffered a depressingly familiar Europa League defeat at Fir Park as Ivelin Popov's second-half double gave them a mountain to climb in Russia next week.

Popov twice finished off passes from Kuban Krasnodar dangerman Ibrahima Balde to give the visitors a perfect introduction to European football.

It was different for St Johnstone. Having already caused a stir round Europe by knocking out Norwegian heavyweights Rosenborg, the Perth outfit followed that feat up with an impressive success in Belarus.

MacLean bagged the winner with 22 minutes left in Grodno - 140 miles west of the former Soviet state's capital, where Minsk's stadium is being redeveloped - to put Saints on course for the play-off round.

Visa delays and sky-high air fares meant the Scots travelled behind the former Iron Curtain with just one solitary supporter for backing. But despite having to go it almost alone, the McDiarmid men coped well during a relatively trouble-free first 45 minutes.

Minsk did threaten within the opening moments, however, as their favoured counter-attacking approach conjured the first chance. Roman Vasilyuk teed up Nikita Bukatkin with a rolled cut-back but his drive from 22 yards was off target.

Saints were not slow to get on the front foot either and MacLean brought out home keeper Vladimir Bushma's first save on 12 minutes as he turned Dave MacKay's cross goalwards.

A Milos Rnic trip on David Wotherspoon seven minutes before the break set up MacKay to pick out Nigel Hasselbaink with a free-kick but the Dutch forward shot straight at Bukatkin.

Minsk midfielder Sergei Kozeka saw a decent opportunity blocked by Steven Anderson just seconds into the second half as the centre-half bravely stood his ground.

Murray Davidson's return to the Saints side came just four minutes after the restart and the Scotland cap made an immediate impression, coming close with a pair of headed opportunities.

The hour mark brought about another decent opening for Saints as Wotherspoon drove in from the left-hand side but Hasselbaink failed to read his low cut-back as the forward dashed into the Minsk box.

But within eight minutes St Johnstone had edged themselves in front as MacLean, collecting Liam Caddis' pass, took advantage of space in the box to shoot early on the right-hand side, burying the ball under Bukatkin.

Some desperate defending was required in the final minutes as Minsk threw a couple of worrying crosses into the Saints box but Alan Mannus and his back four stood strong to ensure they return home packing another impressive result.

Motherwell had responded well to Popov's opener but they were cut open on the break in the 77th minute of the third qualifying round first leg.

Motherwell lost 2-0 at home to Panathinaikos and Levante last season to see their Champions League and Europa League campaigns effectively ended before the second leg.

In both ties Motherwell had plenty of possession but were undone by clinical opponents who both scored their killer goals on the break after good spells of home pressure, and manager Stuart McCall was determined not to suffer the same fate again.

But it was not to be on the night.

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