Twelve goals, one missed penalty, a Van Basten-esque injury time equaliser and a mammoth comeback resulting in the highest scoring game of the SPL era.
Luke Shanley looks back at Motherwell 6-6 Hibernian on its 10th anniversary with four key men from that game and the events leading up to it...
Ten years ago this week, the campaign was nearing its conclusion, the PR battle was rife, every observer was predicting a close finish packed with drama, intrigue and the unexpected and boy, it didn’t disappoint. No, not the 2010 General Election, although it had all that too. This was the battle for a Europa League qualifying position in the then SPL between Motherwell and Hibernian.
With just two games to go, fourth-placed Motherwell were one point ahead of their rivals from Edinburgh. Champions Rangers and runners up Celtic were already guaranteed the Champions League qualifying positions and third-placed Dundee United had bagged one of the Europa League berths. It was all to play for at Fir Park.
Hibernian had started that season looking like they would put in a challenge to the Old Firm. They had picked up results in Glasgow including a win at Celtic Park and had lost just four times by February under the guidance of new manager and former club captain John Hughes.
Hughes: “When I went into Hibs, they had players like Colin Nish and Derek Riordan, real attack-minded players. I was like a kid in sweety shop. We lost Steven Fletcher to Burnley, so we replaced him with Anthony Stokes. A player that I had at Falkirk. So all the mind-set from the minute I went in was attack, attack, attack. We would get on the front foot, score goals, go and entertain. It was good football but attacking football and it served us great, right throughout the season. The first half of the season, we were flying and scoring goals. Nish, Stokes and Riordan scored 51 between the three of them.”
Striker Colin Nish enjoyed the philosophy of his new boss.
Nish: “We were a very much attacking team, John Hughes had us playing a lot of good football, he liked to pass the ball, he was probably the first manager that I worked under that wanted to pass the ball, use the pockets in behind strikers and the areas we could get into. We created a lot of chances that season, we had a good set of attackers, going forward and we were always capable of scoring goals. Derek Riordan and Anthony Stokes scored a barrel load and I was there to compliment them.”
In Lanarkshire, Motherwell were also under new management. Jim Gannon lasted just five months at Fir Park before parting company with the club. That paved the way for a return to Scottish domestic football for the first time since 1985 for former national team manager Craig Brown.
Brown: “I found an excellent team. The start of my time at Motherwell was very good. The team had been under achieving but we had a great unbeaten run to start at the start.”
Brown inherited a team with a blend of youth and experience. Gannon had earlier convinced young Everton striker Lukas Jutkiewicz to join the club on loan.
Jutkiewicz: “Under Jim Gannon, it was a team in transition, he was trying to bring in young players and move on some of the older guard, he was giving youth an opportunity and bringing players up from south of the border.”
“Craig and I had a really good relationship straight away. He came in and wanted everyone to enjoy their football and made a big point of that. I knew of Craig Brown beforehand. The 1998 World Cup was the first tournament I had taken an interest in, so I knew all about Craig Brown anyway, I was certainly excited to work with him. He was an absolute joy.”
The aforementioned election did have an impact on this game. Originally scheduled for the same day, concerns were raised due to a polling station being in the vicinity of Fir Park that could potentially dissuade voters from going out to vote and also stretch resources of the police. The decision was made to bring the game forward by 24 hours with then Motherwell owner John Boyle slashing prices to £10 for adults and £1 for children. The paying fans certainly got their money’s worth.
Despite losing just one of his first 13 league games in charge, Motherwell’s form started to dip ahead of the clash with Hibernian.
Brown: “We were quite optimistic about the prospects, it was a home game. Hibs had a very good side under excellent management of John Hughes and Brian Rice. I had Archie Knox with me and we respected John and Brian immensely. It was good initiative from John Boyle to reduce the prices meaning a bumper crowd. They were within a point of us, so we knew it would be tough. We knew going into the match a win would guarantee us European football.”
Hibernian dropped from 2nd at Christmas to 5th.
Hughes: “Halfway during the season the East stand at Easter Road got demolished and the atmosphere went a little bit. The most important thing was the playing surface really got affected by it. I’m not making excuses it affected us. So the second half of the season was nowhere as good you could have, but we were still pushing for a European spot through the league positions.
“Going into that Motherwell game I think we were on a losing run. Craig Brown and his assistant Archie Knox were very shrewd and very experienced. We knew what we were up against going into that game. I can remember doing our game preparation, and saying ‘right, what are we wanting to do?’ I said: ‘Let’s have a go. It’s served us in good stead.’ We set up a really expansive attacking team. A 4-4-2 with Nish and Stokes up front. Wotherspoon wide right, Riordan wide left. Two midfielders which was Rankin and Liam Miller, god bless him. They two were box-to-box so there wasn’t much protection for the back four. I think the boys embraced it. Then the game started and big Nishy had scored a hat-trick and we were off and running.”
Hibernian did come out of the traps quickly racing into a 4-1 lead with Nish scoring his first Hibernian hat-trick after 35 minutes. Motherwell had initially equalised through Giles Coke but Nish and Riordan gave the visitors a commanding lead.
Nish: “It was end-to-end for the whole game. Normally you get that for a 20-minute spell but in this game, it was for the whole 90 minutes, it was one side to the other side. We certainly took our chances early on.
“My first was a good one-two out wide between David Wotherspoon and Liam Miller. I had decent movement in the middle, I took the defender to the front post and peeled away at the back and it was a simple tap in at the end as it was a great ball by David Wotherspoon. The second one, it was a good cutback from John Rankin and I have hit it with my left foot first-time and I think the goalkeeper should have done a little bit better. The third one was pretty similar, it was a cutback and I have put it in the corner with my left foot.
“It was a great occasion for me as a Hibs fan. Just playing or scoring a goal for Hibs was huge, so playing in a game where I was desperate to get us into Europe and to score a hat-trick and think you have been able to do it and put us in a great position, it was a great feeling.”
John Sutton’s goal six minutes before the break gave the hosts a fighting chance.
Jutkiewicz: “My recollection is they were not that dominant, they obviously had to play well to score four goals but I don’t think it was that there was much between the two really. They perhaps scored with every shot on target they had. It just felt like the performance was better than the scoreline suggested. John Sutton scored a great header and that was a really important goal, all of a sudden we were going in 4-2 down, which doesn’t sound great but it was better than 4-1. It gave a sort of change in the team talk. The coaches mentioned it would clearly be a game with more goals and if we could get the next one then we had every chance of getting a result.”
The mentality didn’t seem to change for both managers in their half-time team talks.
Hughes: “It was just about the same again second half. If we could score four goals in the first half, we could score four in the second half. So it was a case of calming the dressing down. Let’s go out there and do the business. The game’s never won. But there was always that apprehension, of ‘what if’.”
Brown: “The losing lead in any sport is a bad thing. I told them if we get a goal back, that begins to lose their lead, it is like a game of golf, if you are three up then lose one it goes to two, something like that. The jitters can creep in, I emphasised that to the players to get a goal back and keep the momentum going.”
On the evidence of the first 20 minutes of the second half, it looked as if Hughes had got his message across better. Irishman Anthony Stokes scored his 22nd and 23rd goals of the season to put Hibernian into a seemingly untouchable four-goal advantage.
Brown: “I think someone was listening to the team talk. I was a bit demoralising. It is the job of the manager to lift the spirits and get some determination renewed. It was unlike that team to be behind in that manner. It was a bit of an ordeal. We were annoyed with ourselves. We had far more possession and shots than Hibernian looking at the stats. Some fans started to leave but that was the minority. Motherwell fans are very loyal.”
Nish: “When we went 6-2 up, I don’t think I ever stood on the park thinking that was it, it wasn’t one of the feelings you had. It was more one of, I want to score again. The game was really enjoyable to play in, it was a nice night and we were winning away from home.”
Jutkiewicz: “That certainly wasn’t the plan at half time. It came out of nowhere having scored the goal before half time, we felt we could go on and dominate the second half and get a result, so then all of a sudden to concede two more straight away, you are looking down the barrel of an embarrassment again, that was the main concern at that point.
“As mad as it sounds, at 6-2 down, it felt like there was lots of goals in the game. I am not saying we thought the result was in the offing at that point but certainly from a striker’s point of view there were going to be opportunities, it was so open, there would be goals.”
And so to one of the most remarkable comebacks in Scottish football history. Almost immediately Coke grabbed his second and Motherwell’s third of the night. Tom Hateley made it 4-6 from a free kick that Hibernian goalkeeper Graeme Smith should have dealt with better before Sutton got on the scoresheet again, beating Smith to the ball to nod home.
Jutkiewicz: “Once it got back to 6-4, you start to think there’s a chance here but certainly before that it was a case of let’s make a game of this and let’s not get embarrassed on our last home game of the season.”
Hughes: “When they scored to make it 6-3, we are saying to ourselves: ‘What do we do?’ We actually made a substitution. We put Kevin McBride on and took Riordan off just to shore it up a little bit, but the momentum of the game had changed. It was all Motherwell and we were hanging on. We stopped passing the ball, we stopped pressing from the front and we stopped doing the right things.”
Brown: “Whenever you get the first goal back in the second half to reduce the deficit, you think there is always a chance of a comeback. I am a super optimist and I never ever think we are going to lose even when we were behind as badly as we were. We had a team full of determined guys with quality.”
With three minutes remaining, Jutkiewicz found himself on the end of a through-ball into the box before being brought down by Smith. Referee Willie Collum pointed to the spot and all of a sudden, it was on, the chance to draw level for the first time since the 16th minute.
Jutkiewicz: “It was a decent ball over the top from Michael McGlinchey and I managed to get on the end of it and nick the ball in front of the Hibs goalkeeper and I let him hit me, it was a clear penalty. So straight away, you look for the ball as a striker, you want to take a penalty at any opportunity to score a goal but Ross Forbes had come onto the pitch a few minutes earlier and he was our designated penalty taker and I wasn’t going to upset the applecart as much as I wanted it. I said I was happy to take it but straight away he was happy to take it and was desperate to get on the ball, so being the designated penalty taker, he took the ball and I was more than confident he would score.
“When he saved the penalty, we were wondering if that would be our last chance, you just hope you get another one. The keeper guessed the right way, it was a good save, decent height for him but really good save.”
Undeterred, Motherwell didn’t let the missed penalty get them down. They could smell blood, Hibernian were hanging on as the game entered stoppage time. The Steelmen were looking for another chance to salvage a point and they got it.
Jutkiewicz: “I was only due to play 70 minutes, I had an ongoing issue with my knee. Looking across at the bench, they asked me if I was okay, I knew the game was likely to be my last at Fir Park so I said ‘I am fine, don’t take me off at any cost’. I really wanted to finish the game and especially as a striker, greedily, you think there will be more chances in the game. At that point, it was desperation for us really. The ball fell to John Sutton, it was a good ball in the end, but it was a hoof over the top, let’s put some pressure on them, then it was a fatigued race between me and Paul Hanlon to get to the ball really.
“I had my body between the ball and Hanlon and I knew in order for him to get the ball, he’d have to foul me, he couldn’t make a challenge at that point. I didn’t realise I was as wide as I was, I didn’t realise the angle was that narrow, so it was just a case of knowing there was very little time left in the game, get half a yard and have a go and hit it as cleanly as possible and that was the case.”
Jutkiewicz’s finish sparked wild scenes on the pitch, in the dugout and in the stands. The goal resembled Marco van Basten’s in the final of the 1988 European Championships.
Jutkiewicz: “I knew I hit the ball well, it felt clean coming of my boot but not really until I got home and watched the game back later that evening that I realised how tight the angle was. I felt like it was a decent finish but I was happy to see it back on the television later.”
Nish: “It is probably one of the best goals I saw in real life, I am trying to think of anything better than it. My head just went down as soon as it hit the net and thought ‘you’re kidding me on’. I was a bit shocked. I thought we were going to win the game 6-5 as the referee was going to blow the whistle. It seemed like we had done our job which we had set out to do but they scored a wonder goal. Paul Hanlon was the one chasing him back, to be honest, I think he did everything right, he’s kept him away from the goal, he’s probably saying to him, go and have a shot from there, but not expecting it to go right in the top corner.”
Hughes: “It just came over Jutkiewicz’s shoulder and he just hit it really quickly and boom. No goalkeeper was saving that. So you have to put your hand up to him. If it was one of my players scoring that goal you’d go: ‘What a goal!'”
Brown: “It was a wonderful strike from a long ball forward. Hanlon had difficulty coping with Lukas. It was a terrific volley into the postage stamp. It was a dream goal, one you would dream of as a young boy. Lukas was a very humble, decent big lad, no arrogance about him. The goal was exceptional, one of the best at Fir Park for many years. I am normally calm at games, I don’t bounce about at the side of the pitch but I maybe jumped about a bit through sheer enthusiasm at that point as it kept us in with a chance of European football.”
Jutkiewicz: “The emotion of the whole game because of the nature of the comeback, how late on it was, we were almost dead and buried, with it being the last home game of the season, all these things added to that, it kind of took over. I didn’t get a chance to celebrate, I was mobbed and at the bottom of a pile-up with players and staff. Aldo, our kit man, even sprinted down the touchline, it was the fastest I’ve seen him run, to jump on top. It was a special moment.”
Within a minute, referee brought an end to the highest scoring game of the SPL era.
Hughes: “At the end of the game your emotions are all over the place, you’ve been on such a high. A game that you should have won and you felt like you had lost it. I can remember after the game, shaking Craig’s hand and it was just the look on each other’s face of disbelief. It was just a relief for the game to be over.”
Nish got his hands on the match ball but not the man of the match champagne, which went to Jutkiewicz.
Jutkiewicz: “Colin was very gracious to be honest, considering the circumstances. Obviously, he was going to be disappointed enough that they’ve not won the game. From his personal point of view, he scored a hat-trick, he’s played very well, and to be honest, I felt a little bit bad taking the champagne off him, I think he perhaps deserved it more than I did but he was very gracious.”
Nish: “Somebody came up to me to say I got man of the match, you have to do the TV interview. When I was there they said you haven’t got man of the match, Lukas Jutkiewicz has got it. I thought ‘oh, great’. I thought Lukas had a really good game, he scored an excellent goal at the end but I thought Liam Miller was the best player on the pitch if I am honest when I have watched clips of the game back. Although, when you score a hat-trick, you do expect to get man of the match but at the same time in a game that’s got 12 goals, I can understand why Lukas got it.”
Hughes also had to face the press after his team had lost that four-goal lead.
Hughes: “You’re up against a wizard and a master in Craig Brown, the way he can handle the press. To score six goals, you feel like you’ve lost the game, and they were away celebrating. My assistant Brian Rice pulled me aside, he said: ‘Listen this is not the worst result, there are so many positives, we’ve scored six goals, great goals, attacking football we said we were going to do that before the game. When you go into the press, make sure it’s all positive.’ I was trying to put a spin on it, I was after Craig. Craig had already spun it!”
Brown: “I said to the press afterwards that I was coaching the attack and Archie Knox was coaching the defence. It was a genuine joke and Archie took it well.”
Hibernian would clinch fourth place on the final day with a win at Tannadice over Dundee United. Motherwell had to settle for fifth despite another injury time comeback. Craig Brown’s men were 3-1 down to Champions Rangers at Ibrox before two late goals salvaged a 3-3 draw.
Ultimately it would be a happy ending for both. Motherwell did make Europe after Dundee United’s Scottish Cup Final win over Ross County.
Ten years on, how do those involved view the game now?
Hughes: “Looking back on it now, you know you were involved in one of the greatest games in SPL history. I don’t think that will be repeated but at the time, it was an emotional roller-coaster. There’s a bit of pride that you were involved in that. Scoring six goals away from home, the downside is conceding six!
“If it was a boring 0-0 draw, we wouldn’t be doing this interview right now. It was one of the most epic games in SPL history. You might get more goals in a one-sided game but not two teams scoring six goals each.”
Nish: “It is certainly the craziest game I have played in. I have played better games personally and I have played in games where as a team we have played better. It is a game you will probably look back on and think of that one first, more than most other games.
“It seems to be this time of year when it goes on social media and people will say to me, I saw some of your goals. Until there is game with 13 goals in it then I think that will keep happening.”
Jutkiewicz: “It is very difficult to think about it really as 10 years. It was special to be part of because I had a really good time in Scotland, I enjoyed it there. I had a good time in the league and I met a lot of close friends. We had a real tight changing room, I have got a lot of fond memories of my season there so to cap it off in my last home game at Fir Park like that, it was a really good way to finish it.
“I can’t imagine it will be topped for action, end-to-end and goals. I don’t think I can think of a game that comes close to it. I was a very strange one to be a part of.
“My friend said to me after the game that I should retire. I had just turned 21! He told me he didn’t think I would hit one cleaner than that. Because of the circumstances of the game, the comeback, the fact it was in stoppage time, the quality of the goal, I have to say it is up there with my favourites but that one in particular was quite special to me.”
Brown: “It’s very embarrassing. It’s an indictment on the manager and the players. When I was manager of Scotland, I lost just six goals in 20 qualifying games for Euro 96 and World Cup 98 combined and I lost six goals in 65 minutes in this game. It doesn’t say much for you as a manager but this was arguably the most exciting game I have been involved in.”
With this epic scheduled for another broadcast on Sky Sports to mark the 10th anniversary, will they be able to go through it all again?
Brown: “I will certainly sit down and watch it although I don’t normally watch old games afterwards. I am still very keen on the game and with no games being played just now, so you can be sure I will be watching this one. It will be an exciting match even when you know the score before it starts.”
Hughes: “I am a tee-totaller but if I watch that game I’ll be back on the drink! I’ll watch it. I’ll still look at it. It pops up every now and then and you catch a glimpse, see the goals. You look back and you assess it.”
Nish: “I will probably get my son to watch it with me, it will give us something to do for the day with the current situation we are in. I quite like watching it when it is a game I have scored a couple of goals in, there would be other games I wouldn’t choose to watch but that is one I would.”
Jutkiewicz: “I will force my son and my wife to sit down and bore them with it. I don’t think they’ve seen it. It will be nice to see it again. I probably spent the first year watching it over and over again but I haven’t seen it again in a good few years, so it will be nice to sit down and relive that and see the old faces and see Craig Brown, who was a special guy to have in charge of us at the time.”
The outcome of 2010 general election took another five days to be settled due to a hung parliament. This game wins a landslide victory for being the most exciting in the SPL’s 15 year history.
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