Kris Jack at Fir Park
A Michael Higdon double inspired Motherwell to a stunning 3-0 victory over Inverness Caledonian Thistle at Fir Park.
Higdon’s seventeenth and eighteenth goals of the season sandwiched a Nicky Law strike at the start of the second half, to make it three wins out of three over Terry Butcher’s side this season, and pushed them two points clear of the visitors in second place in the SPL.
Having had both Fraser Kerr and captain Keith Lasley sent off in the defeat to Kilmarnock last time out, Stuart McCall could have been forced to wring the changes. However, he opted only to replace Lasley by giving Kallum Higginbotham his first SPL start for the club. Steven Hammell took the captain’s armband, while Steven Saunders return from long-term injury to earn a spot on the bench.
Inverness were unchanged from their midweek draw with Kilmarnock, with Nick Ross looking to make it a goal for the third consecutive match, having scored two in two prior to this match. Former Motherwell favourite Richie Foran missed out through injury as the Caley Jags looked to move four points clear of the hosts in second place.
Inverness were first to threaten, earning a corner in the first minute, which Gary Warren volleyed over the bar from eight yards. A few moments later, Kallum Higginbotham had the crowd on its feet when he flashed a speculative drive inches wide of Ryan Esson’s goal from 25 yards, as both teams looked to take an early lead.
Higginbotham then did well to burst through the Caley defence only to cut the ball back behind the waiting Higdon and Ojamaa in the six-yard box. As Motherwell took a grip on the game, Higdon then headed a Steven Hammell free kick on to the roof of the net.
Inverness then created a couple of opportunities, firstly Billy McKay heading over from a neat Aaron Doran cross, before Owain Tudur Jones shot narrowly wide from about 20 yards. Andrew Shinnie then had the ball in the net after Randolph had parried out a shot from Draper, but the recent Scotland cap was well offside when he tucked away the rebound.
Gary Warren was booked for the visitors for a foul on Ojamaa and the risk of a red card a few minutes later led to the opening goal. The Estonian burst past Warren again, who had to opt out of the tackle or face an early bath, before finding Higdon all alone six yards form goal to prod home after 29 minutes.
It was just about a deserved lead, as the ‘Well’s top scorer bagged his fifth of the season against Inverness. The visitors tried to respond, but Doran wasted their best chance, firing well over the bar from David Raven’s pull-back at the edge of the box.
Higginbotham could have and should have made it 2-0 on his first SPL start when Carswell picked him out in acres of space on the left hand side. However, with too much time to think, he miscued an attempted lob and shot the ball right at Esson who was well out of position.
The Caley keeper had to look sharp to keep out Ojamaa, before Nicky Law flashed a Humphrey cross just wide, as The Steelmen finished the half on the front foot.
Just like the first half, it was Inverness who threatened first when Draper picked out the run of Nick Ross,who got in behind the home defence only to blaze over and in to the Maxim Office Park Stand, when he should have at least worked Randolph.
The visitors had a big penalty shout soon after when it looked like the ball struck Stuart Carswell on the arm in the box, but referee Calum Murray waved play on, much to the chagrin of the away players and support.
The early Caley danger was heeded as Nicky Law made it 2-0 on 51 minutes. The former Rotherham man found himself with the ball at his feet in the box, before drinking the ball past Esson, evading two challenges and firing high in to the net from six yards. It was Law’s fifth SPL goal of the season, and few defences will give him an easier chance to score.
Five minutes later, the game was wrapped up for ‘Well as Higdon bagged his second goal of the game. A ball in from the left hand side was head up in the air by Gary Warren, and as it dropped at the edge of the box, the former St Mirren and Falkirk man boomed his volley in to Esson’s bottom left corner. It was a fantastic strike, which sapped the confidence and composure out of Inverness’ game.
With still half an hour left to play, the home side came under little threat from the Caley forward line, and could have made the scoreline even more emphtaic. Chris Humphrey was unlucky to only find the side netting after winning a foot race with Graham Shinnie to catch a Law through ball, while the pint-sized midfielder himself cracked a great effort off the underside of the bar, after a one-two with sub Zaine Francis-Angol.
Three goals, a clean sheet and three points were well-earned.
The Steelmen surge ahead of Inverness in to second spot with a game in hand against Dundee United still to come. The only negative was the loss of Simon Ramsden midway through the second half with fears the experienced defender may have a broken hand.
[tab:As it happened]
Alastair Reilly at Fir Park
FT: Motherwell 3 – 0 Inverness CT. The Steelmen cruise into second place with a victory over Caley
90mins: 2 minutes added on.
89mins: Jinking run from Humphrey wins us a corner after his cross/shot is deflected wide
81mins: Woah! Great curling effort from Law, who has ran the show, crashes off the bar. So close!
77mins: Humphrey almost completes the rout but his shot hits the side netting after he latched onto Law’s through ball.
75mins: Ojamaa also off for McHugh
75mins: Motherwell sub, Higginbotham off for Francis-Angol
70mins: Good break from a combination of Ojamaa, Law and Higginbotham ends with the latter’s cross being plucked out the air by Esson
68mins: Motherwell sub, Cummins on for Ramsden
67mins: Hammell does enough to take the sting out of Tudor Jones’ shot from 20 yards allowing Randolph to gather comfortably
66mins: Inverness subs, McKay and Doran off for Roberts and Sutherland
61mins: Quick counter from Inverness but Doran narrows his angle with a heavy touch and Randolph makes a regulation save.
59mins: Tudor Jones booked for hacking down Higginbotham. Looked more like out of frustration than anything else.
56mins: It’s time to show your tekkers as Higdon connects as sweet as you like with a left footed volley into the bottom corner. 3-0!
51mins: Nicky Law juggles the ball around the box and eventually pokes it home! 2-0
46mins: Ross scoops the ball over the bar when more composure would surely have seen him score!
46mins: Second half underway!
HT: Excellent first-half – both teams playing some lovely stuff at times. Higgy’s 17th of the season, moves ahead of last season’s tally.
HT: Motherwell 1 – 0 Inverness CT
42mins: Straight after than, a one-two from Higdon and Ojamaa ends with Esson blocking from close range from the Estonian.
42mins: Great chance for Motherwell! Carswell hooks the ball through to Higginbotham who tries to clip it over Esson. Straight to ‘keeper!
33mins: Doran almost replies for Caley but see’s his shot dip too late and onto the roof of the net.
29mins: Just before that Esson had to beat away Hateley’s free kick and Higdon inadvertently deflected law’s shot just past the post.
29mins: 1-0 Ojamaa rolls in Higdon who slots home into the empty net with ease!
26mins: Randolph makes a fantastic save from Doran! Shinnie finishes the rebound but is offside, A let off!
24mins: Corner to Motherwell after Warren slides in to intercept Ojamaa’s cutback to Higdon. Cleared by Caley.
16mins: And up the other end, Warren has to throw himself in front of Ojamaa’s effort which looked goal bound
15mins: Jones fires too close for comfort from 25 yards, Just past.
13mins: Good counter from Caley there! Doran almost slipping in McKay but was intercepted by the sliding Shaun Hutchinson.
12mins: Shinnie finds a bit of space in front of the ‘Well defence and tries his luck from 20 yards. Low and straight at Randolph.
11mins: Sharp turn in the box from McKay almost deceives Hutchison. The big man does well to slide in and clear the danger though.
9mins: Hammell floats in a free-kick from the left. It’s a little too high for Higdon and he can only head over.
8mins: Randolph has to react sharply to come out and gather Ross’ low cross into the box ahead of McKay.
4mins: Higginbotham muscles himself into a crossing position in the box. He cuts it back but Higdon or Ojamaa aren’t there to slot home
1min: Higginbotham looking to get his home debut off to a flyer. He’s unlucky as his 30-yard effort curls wide.
1min: Hammell deflects the ball out for a corner. Warren is on the end of it but volley’s well wide.
1min: And we’re off, courtesy of McKay and Shinnie. #COYW
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“Inverness were good in the first half, they knocked it about well and it was an open game. They are free-scoring this season and to keep a clean sheet and get three goals is really pleasing.
“Some of our football was exceptional at times and we merited the victory. I thought we had some big performances today. I thought Shaun Hutchinson was a tower of strength, Nicky Law in the middle of the park, ably assisted by Stuart Carswell, who covered acres of ground.
“We’ve got a big game here against Dundee United on Tuesday. The park is in decent nick for this time of year and we’ve averaged three goals in our last five home games.
“We’re not only winning games; hopefully we are entertaining as well and that’s what fans pay the money for.
“We want them to get right behind us and I’m sure they will.”
Inverness CT manager Terry Butcher:
“They showed more hunger and appetite for the game and got the goal at the crucial time. I thought we started the game very well.
“You could see our lads were a little bit leggy after the midweek game, they put a hell of a lot into the Kilmarnock game and there was a lot of heartache when we didn’t win the game.
“We kept the same team because they played so well. There have not been many times we have come up second best against a team and unfortunately it has always been Motherwell.
“The pivotal moment was the first goal, we defended like amateurs. It gave them a lift and knocked us back.
“Motherwell were very cute and organised and although we had a lot of possession we couldn’t really create anything when we were chasing the game.”