Motherwell 0-2 Levante

Motherwell v Levante

Motherwell face an immense task to reach the Europa League group stage following a home defeat by Levante.

Juanlu punished the Scots for defensive hesitancy to slide home the opener three minutes before the break.

And, despite a period of Motherwell pressure, substitute Nabil El Zhar lashed in a second after the break.

The Steelmen rarely tested Levante keeper Keylor Navas and the red card for Shaun Hutchinson in 76 minutes only added to the disappointment.

The opening 15 minutes had raised expectations among the home support that they could prosper against the men from Valencia, who were playing in their first European match thanks to their sixth-place finish in La Liga last term.

Winger Chris Humphrey won his first race against the Levante left-back David Navarro and on the other flank Jamie Murphy showed early promise.

Navarro's sluggish start continued when he fluffed a clearance, allowing Humphrey to gain possession and cut into the box. With Michael Higdon yelling for a cutback, Humphrey opted to toe-poke the ball at Navas's goal and the chance was gone.

A flashing Navarro header from a corner ought to have alerted Well to the threat of an away goal being conceded.

But despite Motherwell's bright start, it was Levante who had the first shot on target, a piercing drive by Michel from 20 yards that Darren Randolph punched clear.

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Interview - Motherwell manager Stuart McCall

And that sense that the Spaniards had found their rhythm was heightened when Higdon first failed to clear a cross and then was wrong-footed when the ball was set up for Michel, who shot a yard or so wide from the edge of the box.

Nikolaos Karabelas limped off towards the end of the half after a thumping 50-50 challenge with Adam Cummins had left him in agony on the turf.

Few things can match the loss of an away goal for the sense of doom that it engenders.

That Motherwell should concede one just three minutes before the interval only deepened the gloom for their fans.

The home defence hesitated when Christian Lell's cross from the right came in, apparently assuming that Theofanis Gekas would be flagged offside.

Instead, he strayed back towards his own goal, while Juanlu moved in from an onside position, picked up the ball and gave Randolph no chance with his shot.

After the break, Randolph raced from his goal-line to deny Gekas after the Greek had collected Juanlu's deft pass at the edge of the box and quickly unleashed his shot.

A good spell for Motherwell followed, the highlights of which were Henrik Ojamaa's skewed shot wide from inside the box and Humphrey's inviting cross along the six-yard box which had Higdon scrambling for a back-post connection.

The band of 150 travelling fans were in raptures, though, in 62 minutes when Lell sneaked past Stevie Hammell and crossed for El Zhar to slam a shot high past Randolph.

Motherwell manager Stuart McCall sent on Robert McHugh and Fraser Kerr for Henrik Ojamaa and Chris Humphrey to try to effect a change in their fortunes.

But Motherwell's European challenge all but ended when Hutchinson was sent off for hauling down Gekas on the edge of the box as he bore down on goal.

Only Randolph's ability to change direction in mid air prevented Jose Barkero's deflected free-kick producing a third for Levante.

Motherwell's trip to Valencia in a week's time could scarcely be more daunting.

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