Two goals from John Sutton got ‘Well back to winning ways as they edged Ross County at the Global Energy Stadium.
Sutton struck twice in the first half hour as the visitors dominated, but a spirited second-half showing from County saw them reduce the deficit through Melvin De Leeuw.
Despite County pushing hard for a leveller, the Steelmen battled hard and defended resolutely to hold out for all three points.
Stuart McCall made three changes to the side that lost to Celtic eight days ago. Gunnar Nielsen and Fraser Kerr were both ruled out through injury and Craig Moore dropped to the bench. They were replaced in the starting eleven by emergency loan keeper Dan Twardzik, Lionel Ainsworth and Henri Anier.
After a slow start to the match, it burst into life in the 14th minute with a Richard Brittain free kick, which rattled the Motherwell crossbar.
But the visitors went straight up the field and took the lead. Stuart Carswell disposed Mark Klok with an excellent sliding tackle, which presented the ball for John Sutton. He wasted no time firing in a shot that deflected off Brian McLean and past the outstretched Michael Fraser for 1-0.
The home side tried hard to get back on level terms but failed to test Motherwell’s on-loan goalkeeper Dan Twardzik who was a virtual spectator throughout the first half.
It got worse for County in the 27th minute when the visitors doubled their advantage. Henri Anier tried a speculative shot from well outside the area, which was scooped away by Fraser, but Sutton was on hand to steer the rebound home. The home side looked hopefully at the assistant referee for an offside flag but it wasn’t forthcoming.
County boss Derek Adams made an early chance with forward Kevin Luckassen coming off the bench in place of holding player Klok.
The change seemed to give County a much-needed lift and the substitute was soon in action with a near-post header from a Brittain cross which Twardzik did well to tip over.
The visitors threatened early in the second half when Lionel Ainsworth went on a 40-yard run down the right touchline and his cross into the box was deflected behind for a corner.
At the other end Ben Gordon went on a surging run before squaring the ball for Rocco Quinn, whose goalbound shot was smothered by Twardzik.
The home side looked more in the mood and Quinn had another chance in the 57th minute when he pounced on a De Leeuw flick-on but his shot was well wide.
Pressure paid off in the 61st minute when Luckassen won the ball near the corner flag and his deep cross to the far post was headed in from close range by De Leeuw.
The visitors had a let-off in the 67th minute when Brian McLean had the ball in the net following a Brittain corner but referee Crawford Allan blew for an infringement in the box long before the ‘Well defender had made contact.
County continued to press and they were almost in shortly afterwards when substitute Gary Glen and Brittain combined to set up Luckassen, whose shot was well blocked at the back post by Twardzik.
With time running out there were chances at both ends.
Firstly Quinn forced another fine save from Twardzik when Lasley was robbed in the eighteen yard box, before ‘Well raced up the pitch and Fraser did well to come off his line to thwart substitute Craig Moore who had burst clear of the last defender..
County continued to push for a leveller but the Steelmen held on for a vital three points.
[tab:As it happened]
Ally Reilly at The Global Energy Stadium
FT: Ross County 1 – 2 Motherwell. Hanging on in the end after a comfortable first half but that’s the 3 points in the bag!
Nailbiting finish was we enter the final minute… #rcfcvmfc
91mins: Corner County which Twardzik punches clear #rcfcvmfc
90mins: 3 minutes added on
88mins: Moore wins a free-kick in the corner as ‘Well look to run down the clock #rcfcvmfc
85mins: Good save from Fraser fto deny Moore who had burst through 1 on 1! End to end. #rcfcvmfc
82mins: McManus see’s his shot blocked in the box from McFadden’s corner #rcfcvmfc
81mins: Motherwelll sub, Ainsworth makes way for Lawson #rcfcvmfc
80mins: twardzik to the rescue again to deny Brittain! Holding on here! #rcfcvmfc
77mins: Motherwell sub, McFadden on for Vigurs
75mins: Motherwell sub, Moore on for Anier
75mins: Twardzik denies Luckassen at the back post. All County now…..
72mins: County sub, Glen on for Carey
67mins: County have the ball in the net however the whistle had already been blown for a foul
61mins: GOAL – de Leeuw pulls one back for County. Heads in from Luckassen’s cross #rcfcvmfc
58mins: Lasley booked for a foul on Brittain.
53mins: Great save from Twardzik to deny Quinn from 12 yards! County fighting their way into this #rcfcvmfc
49mins: Booking, Carswell takes one for the team and hauls down Luckassen on the halfway line as they looked to break #rcfcvmfc
Second half now underway #rcfcvmfc
HT: Ross County 0 – 2 Motherwell
44mins: Corner to ‘Well after a good attacking spell and Vigurs shot deflected over. County clear from the delivery #rcfcvmfc
Incidentally, Ross County do a great pie #manvfood
36mins: Boyd does superbly, blocking Anier’s shot at the back post from Ainsworth’s teasing low cross #rcfcvmfc
35mins: Hutchinson does well to block with his head from Luckassen only 10 yards out #rcfcvmfc
33min: Lack of tweets while the pies are passed out across the press box. #rcfcvmfc
30mins: Ross County sub, Luckassen on for Klok
27mins: SUTTON does it again! Pounces on Fraser’s save from Anier’s fine strike from 18 yards to make it 0-2 #rcfcvmfc
21mins: Vigurs finds a bit of space 25 yards out and tries his luck. Well wide but worth a try with nothing else on #rcfcvmfc
19mins: Corner to ‘Well, Ainsworth’s delivery at the front post is headed well over by Ramsden #rcfcvmfc
15mins: SUTTON opens the scoring from 20 yards! Great strike which took a deflection into the bottom corner 0-1 #rcfcvmfc
14mins: Brittain rattles the bar from the FK, Good effort! #rcfcvmfc
13mins: Free-kick for county 25 yards out. Dangerous.
12mins: Hammell again delivers from wide for Sutton. He makes the slightest of touches and the ball rolls wide #rcfcvmfc
8mins: Hammell whips in a ball which is headed down by Sutton looking for onrushing midfielders. No takers and County clear #rcfcvmfc
4mins: Vigurs swing in an inviting ball from the left which doesn’t quite fall for Anier. Gordon whips it clear #rcfcvmfc
1mins: First bit of attacking intent shown by ‘Well. Hammell tries to play in Anier but the ball skids off the surface to safety #rcfcvmfc
Lasley and Carswell kick off the action. #COYW #rcfcvmfc
Rain starting to pick up and the floodlights are on already. Feels like it’s been dark all day up here.
Both teams take to the field, ‘Well in claret and amber, County in dark blue #rcfcvmfc
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“They threw everything at us second half. It was probably a tale of two halves and the first-half performance got us the victory.
“I wouldn’t say we were lucky, more hard-fought and we stuck in there when we needed to.
“I thought our young keeper did well in difficult circumstances. When you get into a 2-0 lead you need to try and kill the game off but they had a real go.
“There’s all different ways to win and that was gutsy and I’m delighted to get back on the winning track.”
Ross County manager Derek Adams:
“We totally dominated and obviously deserved to win. We battered Motherwell and came away with nothing – we should have won by four or five goals with the chances we had.
“If he’s honest enough then Stuart McCall will say his team got off today because we should have put them to bed in the second half.
“We should never have been two down, they got a deflected goal and we believe the second might have been offside.
“There wasn’t too much in the first half apart from that and we had a goal disallowed in the second half for a foul in the box.
“They cleared a few off the line and their keeper made a few good saves. We put balls across, over the bar and past the post at open goals. We should have scored and a few goals wouldn’t have flattered us.”