Hutchinson off in Well defeat

Shaun Hutchinson was sent off as Motherwell suffered defeat in the Europa League play-off first leg against Levante at Fir Park.

Last Updated: 23/08/12 at 23:21

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Just like their Champions League clash against Panathinaikos at Fir Park, Motherwell conceded a soft first-half goal before being caught out after a spell of sustained pressure of their own.

Levante, who finished sixth in La Liga last season after briefly topping the table in late October, pushed Motherwell back in the first half but they were gifted a 42nd-minute opener as Juanlu ran from deep to net as the home defence waited for an offside flag.

Motherwell improved significantly and Henrik Ojamaa had two good chances but the visitors carved out a second for substitute Nabil El Zhar in the 62nd minute and killed the game off before Hutchinson was dismissed for a last-man challenge.

Levante were making their European debut without Senegal midfielder Pape Diop, who was unable to secure a visa to enter the UK.

But they retained a very experienced and solid core, pinned together by central defenders David Navarro, formerly of Valencia, and their captain, 36-year-old Sergio Ballesteros.

Motherwell manager Stuart McCall had spoken of employing an "up and at 'em" approach after Motherwell had their fair share of possession against Panathinaikos but lost 5-0 on aggregate to more clinical opponents.

There were more high balls than usual in the first half towards Michael Higdon, however Levante's two powerful centre-backs were helped out by the even more imposing figure of midfield anchor man Vicente Iborra as they snuffed out the threat.

After the visitors presented flowers to home skipper Keith Lasley in memory of Phil O'Donnell, Motherwell had the first opening when Navarro slipped, but Chris Humphrey could only hit the ball into the goalkeeper's hands as Higdon awaited a cutback.

The hosts soon began to create chances. Navarro was too high with a free header and Michel had a powerful long-range shot parried by Darren Randolph after finding space.

The midfielder had a better chance when Ballesteros turned Higdon and cut the ball back following a corner but he shot just wide from 18 yards.

Motherwell were having to work hard in their own half as Levante continued to find space in front of their back four and Adam Cummins was quickly out to close down Nikolaos Karabelas with a full-blooded but fair challenge that saw the Greek player carried off on a stretcher and replaced by El Zhar.

Despite Levante's superiority, they had not cut open the Motherwell defence until the hosts shot themselves in the foot when Levante right-back Christian Lell played a high diagonal ball.

Greece striker Theofanis Gekas looked offside but the ball sailed beyond him and, with the home defence looking for a flag, left-winger Juanlu ran from an onside position behind Tom Hateley to collect the ball clean through on Randolph.

Cummins put in a last-ditch challenge but it was not enough to stop the Spaniard steering the ball inside the near post.

Randolph had to be quickly off his line to foil Gekas as Levante broke early in the second half but Motherwell then put the Spaniards under pressure as they reverted to type with some short passing.

Motherwell had a penalty appeal as Ballesteros nudged Higdon for what would have been a soft award, though no more so than some of the fouls for aerial challenges that Finnish referee Antti Munukka had previously given.

Ojamaa then had two good chances inside the box. He was closed down quickly after a one-two with Nicky Law and then failed to catch hold of a strike from 16 yards after being set up by Hateley, with the ball trundling wide.

Humphrey then embarked on a strong run but his cross was just too far in front of Higdon and Ojamaa.

Motherwell had lifted the 6,286 crowd and Levante were firmly on the back foot but the hosts were cut open with a simple move.

Lell was again the provider, running on to a short forward pass that just beat Stevie Hammell, before cutting the ball back for El Zhar. The Moroccan had ample space to steer the ball past Randolph from 12 yards.

The goal sucked the life out of the game and crowd and Hutchinson's game ended when he brought down Gekas just outside the box in the 77th minute after Jose Barkero had played him through.

Randolph showed good reactions to stop Barkero's deflected free-kick before the game was played out inside the Motherwell half.

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