Alan Burrows at Fir Park
Michael Higdon scored a hat-trick as the Steelmen cruised past Inverness to move top of the Scottish Premier League.
‘Well roared into an early two-goal lead when Tom Hateley scored directly from an 11th-minute corner and Higdon netting a quick second, getting on the end of a superb run and cross.
Richie Foran pulled got the Highlanders back in the game with a close-range header and at that point the game was wide open.
But the second half was all Motherwell and Higdon took advantage of a mistake to score his second and then completed his treble with a blistering half-volley after sub Henrik Ojamaa cut it back.
Andrew Shinnie passed up the chance to make the closing stages interesting when his penalty was expertly turned away by Republic of Ireland International Darren Randolph.
The Steelmen move a point above Celtic, who have a game in hand, into top spot while Inverness slip to second bottom, one point in front of St Johnstone.
Motherwell boss Stuart McCall made five changes from the side that performed so well against Levante in Spain on Thursday night. Stevie Hammell, Stuart Carswell, Stevie Hetherington, Henrik Ojamaa and Jamie Murphy all dropped out, replaced by Zaine Francis-Angol, Nicky Law, Tom Hateley, Bob McHugh and Chris Humphrey.
Inverness midfielder Ross Draper tested Darren Randolph with an early shot but the visitors soon found themselves with a mountain to climb as the Claret and Amber men netted twice within the space of two minutes.
Tom Hateley’s whipped corner flew over the head of David Raven and deceived goalkeeper Ryan Esson and ended in the net despite the best efforts of the Thistle ‘keeper on the line.
And it got better for the hosts as Chris Humphrey sensational run and cross found the poaching Michael Higdon who tucked home from just a few yards out.
It looked as if Motherwell could run away with it at that stage but, to their credit, Inverness bounced back and responded with strikes from Aaron Doran and Owain Tudor Jones but neither posed much of a problem for Republic of Ireland International Randolph.
But Terry Butcher’s men did eventually haul themselves back into the game and, typically, it came from ex-‘Well favourite Richie Foran.
Doran’s corner was cleared but Jones returned the ball into the box and Foran got in behind Tom Hateley before directing a header past Randolph and into the corner.
And the Inverness captain could have levelled before the break but was denied by the brilliant of Randolph who blocked the initial shot before Foran tamely headed the rebound wide.
Dubliner Foran continued to pose a threat in the second half as Inverness sought to take advantage of any Motherwell tiredness following their Europa League defeat by Levante on Thursday.
Down the other end and skipper Keith Lasley almost gave ‘Well the cushion they were looking for but a deft chip landed just the wrong side of Esson’s right-hand post.
Higdon also tried to double his personal tally, but the big striker’s volley was wide after a terrific passing move from the Steelmen.
But the former Crewe, Falkirk and St Mirren striker took advantage of David Raven’s wayward pass-back and finished well past Esson. It was a great finish by the Motherwell marksman who had very little of the goal to aim at.
In between times, Motherwell also had a couple of decent penalty shouts denied when Fraser Kerr looked to have been tripped in the area by Josh Meekings and a Jamie Murphy strike came back off the hand of a recovering Caley defender, neither of which interested referee Stevie O’Reilly.
With the game finely poised, Higdon secured his hat-trick in sensational style, getting on the end of a Henrik Ojamaa cut-back before side-footing an exquisite volley high past Esson to confirm all three points.
Inverness did have the chance to reduce their deficit after Jonathan Page had fouled Foran in the box but Andrew Shinnie’s penalty was brilliantly saved by Randolph.
It was to be the last action of a thoroughly entertaining ninety minutes. Motherwell now have two weeks to rest, recover and nurse players back to fitness after a grueling schedule over the last five weeks.
[tab:As it happened]
Alastair Reilly at Fir Park
FULL TIME: Motherwell 4 – 1 Inverness CT. Higgy hat-trick hauls ‘Well to top of the table. Enjoy the view going into International break.
90mins: Into stoppage time. Tremendous entertainment here at Fir Park. A joy to watch.
84mins: ‘Well Sub, Carswell on for Humphrey
80mins: INVERNESS PENALTY: Ooofft, it’s all getting exciting here. Randolph saved it. Wonderfully.
79mins: Ojamaa with some silky skills down the right, pulls back to Higdon who finishes again with great finesse. 4-1
78mins: HAT-TRICK FOR HIGGGGYYYYYYY
77mins: Foran curls a free-kick straight at Randolph. Just under 15mins to hold on.
75mins: Unbelievable save from Randolph: Close range overhead kick is sailing in until he somehow gets a hand to it to push out for a corner
72mins: McHugh off for Ojamaa just after goal.
71mins: Higdon latched on to Raven’s slack back pass before cooly firing it past Esson at his near post.
GOOOOOOAAALLLLLLLL! Higdon with his second!
65mins: Another penalty shout! This time Murphy’s side footed shot appeared to have been blocked by a hand. Nothing given!
63mins: SUBS: Murphy on for Law and an ICT sub, Morrison on for Tudur-Jones
…have made contact with the ball first. Will be interesting to see that back again!
59mins: Huge shout for a penalty there. Kerr showing great pace to sprint through on goal. The defender hauled him down but was judged to..
56mins: Great play from Higdon! Pulled the ball out the air wonderfully on the chest and volleyed goalward. Hits the side netting.
54mins: Law hits the by-line and clip the ball across goal. Just as McHugh is about to head the ball home, Esson plucks the ball out the air
51mins: Almost a wonderful goal there from Lasley. Edge of the box, dinked effort had Esson rooted……Just past the post.
46mins: Incidentally, on Thursday I was absolutely roasting watching the game, today I’m absolutely frozen. Must be a happy medium?!
45mins: Sides are back out for the second half. And we’re off!
HALF TIME: Motherwell 2 – 1 Inverness. Quick double from ‘Well enough to give half-time advantage.
43mins: Foran nearly squares the game. He latched onto a long ball and with only Randolph to beat, drills it straight at the keeper’s feet.
39mins: Half-hearted appeals for a penalty after Meekings appeared to block McHugh’s shot with his hand. Looked more ball to hand.
34mins: Higdon tries to clip the ball over Esson’s head from 20 yards. Doesn’t quite have the execution and the ball floats over.
32mins: Chance for Lasley to restore the 2 goal lead. McHugh found him on the edge of the box but left footed shot blazed well over.
27mins: Just before that, Raven spurned a great opportunity at the near post, aiming straight at Randolph who saved well with his feet.
26mins: GOAL: Inverness get a goal back. Richie Foran nodding home from close range.
25mins: Quick counter from Inverness. Shinnie would have been through but for Francis-Angol tracking back and intercepting.
22mins:Set-piece corner from Hateley and Law frees space for the Hateley to have a crack on goal. Very nearly found the top corner!
20mins: Randolph called into action again. This time he’s only required to smother Jones’ tame effort.
18mins: Inverness have the ball in the net. No goal though as Foran was offside as he nodded the ball back across goal.
11mins: 2 in 2 minutes for ‘Well! Brilliant work from Humphrey down the wing. He composes himself and slides it in to Higdon for an emphatic finish.
9mins: GOAL! Tom Hateley curls a corner straight in!
6mins: Humphrey cuts back to McHugh who has a box full of men to shoot past. His effort is deflected just past the post.
5mins: Game being played in the Motherwell half. Foran looked to be through but the linesman stuck his flag up for offside.
1min: Randolph tested early from a Draper shot. He got down really well to tip the goal bound ball past the post.
1min: McHugh and Law kick off the first half. Shooting towards the South Stand as usual.
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“We talked last week about getting a good start and went 1-0 up in the first two minutes against St Mirren.
“Today it was two in 12 minutes, but Inverness can cause us lots of problems.
“It was a really good entertaining game and I thought we got the upper hand in the second half, but even at 2-0 against Terry Butcher’s sides, you’re never comfortable, and they got a goal back [through Richie Foran] which I thought they deserved.
“Foran gave our two young centre-backs a physical test in the first half but we stood up to it. Just before half-time he was one-on-one with our goalkeeper, and everyone will remember Darren’s penalty save, but his save with his legs at that time was important.
“I was really pleased by how we came out in the second half. We didn’t want to sit deep and we asked questions of them and got goals that merited the victory.
“We got a good performance and a good victory.
Inverness CT manager Terry Butcher:
“If you give away goals like that in the SPL, you’re going to get hammered. To lose two goals so early in the match, but especially the first one, was really disappointing.
“We’ve given away cheap goals but we always have to work hard to score. The manner of the goals is very much cause for concern.
“We played some good stuff and always looked at 2-1 as though we could get something from the game, but it hinged on the second chance for Richie Foran [at the end of the first half].
“Motherwell scored a couple more and ran out comfortable winners.
“I’m not happy. Eight goals in two games is not good enough but we’ll work on it, we have two weeks to ponder that now and it’s just disappointing again.”