Motherwell secured a hugely important three points away to Inverness tonight – lifting the club to seventh in the table whilst lifting the spirits among the squad too.
A wonder goal from Craig Clay and a late stike from Scott McDonald gave the Steelmen a two goal lead before Greg Tansey pulled a scrappy goal back for the hosts in the 90th minute.
And during extremely difficult conditions at the Caledonian Stadium, Motherwell may not have hit scintillating form, but secured perhaps the most important win of the campaign so far.
Mark McGhee named just one change to the side that lost 3-1 at home to Aberdeen. Injured skipper Keith Lasley was replaced by summer signing Carl McHugh who was making his long awaited return to action following a concussion suffered on the opening day of the season.
Inverness named an unchanged eleven from the side who lost narrowly to Rangers on Christmas Eve.
Despite making just the one change to his starting eleven, McGhee was forced to make an early substitution when Chris Cadden limped off after 26 minutes to be replaced by Lionel Ainsworth.
In a quiet opening 45, Inverness went closest through a terrific freekick from Greg Tansey. The midfielder curled a fantastic effort on target and forced Craig Samson to pull off a tremendous save, scrambling across his line before leaping and palming the goal bound effort round his post.
Ex-Well man Iain Vigurs went close with a header when he hit the woodwork in the 34th minute, but a slight touch from the head of Stephen McManus meant the midfielder had next to no time to react and did well to even get on the end of the cross.
The story of the first half though was a debatable call from referee Barry Cook, who reached in to his pocket and booked Larnell Cole for what looked to be an extremely reckless foul on Lee Lucas. The Caley Jags wide man had both feet off the deck when he lunged in to challenge the Welsh Steelman in a 50/50 battle, but the official decided it only merited a yellow.
Despite nearly falling behind, Motherwell could have went in with a one goal lead when Lee Lucas slipped in Ainsworth on the stroke of half time. The neatly threaded pass left the winger with a chance to burst in to the box and have an effort on goal, but Owain Fon-Williams was alert to rush off his line and gather the ball.
The second half was far more eventful than the first and in the 50th minute Craig Clay broke the deadlock whilst opening his account in Claret and Amber.
What a goal it was too. The Englishman collected the ball outside the box and launched a searching right-footed effort towards the far top corner. It appeared as though it was about to fly over the crossbar before it dipped just in time to go under the woodwork and ripple the net.
It was a moment of class to undo a sturdy Inverness side who had held strong for the first period.
But equally so had Motherwell, and centre backs Ben Heneghan and McManus in particular had outstanding matches in front of Samson, who had a terrific evening himself.
Inverness didn’t carve out too many clear cut chances but a number of efforts were blocked superbly by ‘Well defenders and Samson was on hand to deal with a number of threatening deliveries from corners and freekicks – whipped in from the familiar left foot of Iain Vigurs.
Aussie forward McDonald wrapped up the three points in the 87th minute and sent the travelling ‘Well fans in to party mode when he got on the end of a chipped Louis Moult pass to lash past Fon-Williams with his first touch after letting the ball take a bounce.
However, celebrations became muted for the additional three minutes as Greg Tansey scrambled a consolation goal over the line from a corner in the 90th minute. Vigurs’ delivery in to the six yard box was surrounded by a number of bodies and the Caley Jags midfielder got the necessary touch to prod beyond Samson.
It was too little too late for the hosts though on a hugely important night at the Caledonian Stadium.
The victory means Motherwell find themselves seventh in the Premiership, one point off Partick Thistle in sixth and four points above bottom placed Inverness, with Hamilton awaiting the Fir Parkers in the final match of the year on Saturday afternoon.
[tab:As it happened]
Alastair Reilly at Caledonian Stadium
Great three points to take home from the Highlands. Come on!!!!!
FT: Inverness CT 1 – 2 Motherwell #ICTFCvMFC
91′ | 1-2
Three minutes added on.
90′ | 1-2
Goal – ICT pull one back after a scramble from a corner!
87′ | 0-2
Moult clips a curling ball into McDonald who steadies himself and fires past Fon-Williams!!!!
81′ | 0-1
So close for Caley. Ball is headed onto the bar, comes back down and possibly crossed the line but no goal given.
76′ | 0-1
Fisher booked for a rash tackle on Lucas.
75′ | 0-1
Terrible indecision from McKay and ‘keeper lets in Moult who wins a corner.
73′ | 0-1
Mulraney needlessly shoves over Moult giving ‘Well a free-kick wide on the left…..Ainsworth whips it in but its nodded wide
71′ | 0-1
ICT sub, Polworth off for Mulraney.
70′ | 0-1
Ainsworth tries his luck from range which Fon-Williams makes a meal of before eventually gathering.
63′ | 0-1
Motherwell sub, Hammell makes way for McMillan
60′ | 0-1
Vigurs’ free-kick takes a huge curl with the wind which thankfully Samson is alert to. Palmed away for a corner.
58′ | 0-1
ICT sub, Doumbouya off for Fisher.
58′ | 0-1
Moult booked after he went to sweep Clay’s header on but caught Warren instead.
55′ | 0-1
ICT sub, Cole off for Doran
50′ | 0-1
WHAT A GOAL!!!!! Clay picks it up on the edge of the box and fires a beauty into the top corner!!!
47′ | 0-0
Glorious chance for Doumbouya as he breaks away but with only Samson to beat he drags his shot wide of the post.
McDonald gets the second half underway.
HT: Inverness CT 0 – 0 Motherwell #ICTFCvMFC
44′ | 0-0
Heneghan again with a great block, this time from Tansey as he burst clear in the box.
39′ | 0-0
McKay booked for grabbing a fistful of Clay’s shirt as he broke
35′ | 0-0
Poor challenge from Cole earns him a booking. ‘Well players not at all happy as Lucas lies injured.
34′ | 0-0
Vigurs heads into the side-netting from 5 yards after a fine deep ball in from Polworth. Great chance.
32′ | 0-0
Great save by Samson! Has to react quickly to Tansey’s free-kick and does superbly to dive and tip it wide of the post.
27′ | 0-0
Close! Ainsworth’s cross turns into a shot which drifts inches wide of the top left corner of the goal!
26′ | 0-0
Chance for Doumbouya but Heneghan does superbly to throw himself in front of it. Corner ICT.
25′ | 0-0
Motherwell sub, Cadden limps off and is replaced by Ainsworth
23′ | 0-0
Cadden gets some space on the right, slides inside to McDonald but the Aussie’s left-footed shot drifts wide of the post.
20′ | 0-0
Quite a low-key opening 20 minutes. Not an awful lot happening of note….
13′ | 0-0
ICT have the first corner of the game…..Tansey swings it in but Moult is on hand to nod it clear.
3′ | 0-0
Very nearly the opener as Hammell clips in a free-kick which is flicked on At second attempt, Fon-Williams saves.
ICT get the action underway. #ICTFCvMFC
Both sides are out the tunnel, kick-off is seconds away….
Motherwell manager Mark McGhee:
Inverness manager Richie Foran: