They say that one man’s misfortune is another man’s gain and as Scottish football collectively laughs at the demise of Rangers, one club in particular is hoping to take advantage of the situation.
And for once, that club isn’t Celtic. The financial meltdown that has unravelled at Ibrox, with the club being demoted to the bottom tier of the Scottish pyramid, has been especially profitable for Motherwell, who have been offered the chance of Champions League qualification – a chance they have gleefully accepted.
After a couple of managerial failures – most notably at Bradford City – Stuart McCall has rebuilt his reputation at Fir Park and last season was a fine one for the SPL club.
The Lanarkshire side finished as the best of the rest in third position – as good as can be expected with the Old Firm as competition, even with Rangers’ ten-point deduction – and ended the season with a total of 62 points, a club record in the SPL.
The ‘Well spent nearly the entire season tucked in behind the Glasgow giants and deserve their crack at the big time. After a enjoying only a handful of forays into European competition in their history – they first competed in the UEFA Cup in 1991 – this is Motherwell’s first venture into the realms of the Champions League and one that the whole club is looking forward to immensely.
But before thoughts can turn to a lucrative stint in the group stages, Motherwell have a two-legged tie against Greek side Panathinaikos to contend with. The Greeks are regulars on the European scene and the odds offered by bwin reflect how difficult it will be for the Steelmen.
Despite being away from home, Panathinaikos are the 4/5 favourites to gain a first leg advantage, with the home team 333/100 and the draw 12/5. In other words, ‘Well fans backing their boys to win with the free £20 bet bwin offers new customers would pocket £86.60 if successful.
You would think that Motherwell will have to get some sort of result to go to Greece with if they are to stand a chance of progression – odds of 3/20 for Panathinaikos to qualify are slim indeed – but I fear they face too much of an uphill battle.
Motherwell’s record against the non-Old Firm sides in last season’s SPL was excellent (they lost just five times in 30 fixtures) but they took just one point in eight games against Rangers and Celtic, which suggests to me that the step up in class against the Greeks will be too much for them.
The Greens finished second to Olympiakos in last year’s Greek Super League and have a squad full of European and international experience, led by Giorgos Seitaridis and Konstantinos Katsouranis, who have both been stalwarts of the Greece national side for many years. Possessing more class but, just as crucially, more know-how at this level, I see Panathinaikos winning at Fir Park and setting up a comfortable second leg in a week’s time.
But odds-on away shots aren’t really my thing, so instead I’ll be on the 7/5 that Panathinaikos win a match that produces under 3.5 goals. Fifteen of Motherwell’s 19 league games at Fir Park last term had three goals or less and they scored just 14 and conceded 18 in 11 games at home to sides in the top half of the table.
Panathinaikos were similarly goal-shy on their travels in 2011/12: 73% of their away games had under 2.5 goals and there were only 17 goals scored in their seven fixtures away to the top half of the Super League.
So it could be a low-scoring affair, especially with Motherwell wanting to make sure they are still in the tie come next week and Panathinaikos happy to bide their time – but I think the Greeks will ultimately prevail and I like the look of that 7/5.
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