Motherwell returned to their winning ways with an emphatic win over Ross County.
And, with the benefit of the other midweek results, the Steelmen extended their lead in third place in the race for a Europa League slot.
Following a frugal February where they gained a solitary league point, Motherwell moved into March determined to firm up their grip on third place in Ladbrokes Premiership.
And after conceding a goal to Liam Fontaine after only three minutes, the Steelmen showed tremendous character to fightback with some style and renewed confidence to comfortably claim their first home win since December.
Goals from Mark O’Hara and Allan Campbell had the ‘Well ahead at the break. This time there was no chance of a second half fight back from the Dingwall side, as Campbell claimed his second before Tony Watt grabbed his first league goal for the Fir Park side in the final minute.
Having served his one-match suspension, Christopher Long returned to lead the attack. Stephen Robinson elected not to partner him with Tony Watt for the first time at Fir Park, preferring to go with the speed of Jermaine Hylton and Rolando Aarons to support from wide positions. The only other change was the one enforced by Liam Donnelly’s absence due to a two-match suspension, with Mark O’Hara filling the anchor role in midfield.
In keeping with the Scottish Government guidelines on reducing the spread of coronavirus, players and officials declined to shake hands before the kick-off. Whether the reduction in person-to-person contact extended to goal celebrations wasn’t clear.
It didn’t take long to find out, though, as County players hugged one another in celebration of the opening goal inside the first three minutes.
Former ‘Well man Iain Vigurs curled in a low corner and Fontaine, unmarked, swept the ball low past Mark Gillespie for the worst possible start for the under pressure Steelmen.
Still, better to go behind early than concede a late winner – Motherwell had 87 minutes to respond to that setback.
And it was almost immediate when five minutes later Allan Campbell stooped to meet Aarons’ cross but he headed the ball straight into the arms of the waiting Ross Laidlaw.
At the other end Gillespie made his first and only real save of the game reacting superbly after Billy McKay’s 18 yard drive took a deflection on its way to goal.
With 16 minutes on the clock, the hard working Long earned a free kick 30 yards from goal. And although Aarons thumping free kick deflected for a corner, Motherwell profited from Liam Polworth’s delivery. Hartley lurking at the back of the six yard box returned the ball across the area and as it bounced in front of goal, O’Hara slammed it low into the net to level the scores.
Two minutes later it was almost a repeat when from Polworth’s corner, Gallagher left it for Peter Hartley but his powerful header was cleared off the line.
In the 25th minute ‘Well turned their pressure into a second goal. Gallagher’s superb ball out of defence sent Liam Grimshaw to the opposite byeline. His cross towards the penalty spot was chested down by Hylton before his volleyball rebounded from the crossbar. The ball fell for Campbell who took a touch before firing beyond the ‘keeper to make it 2-1.
It might have been more for the Fir Park side as couple of low drives skipped narrowly past the post.
Ahead once again at the interval, the question was how Robinson’s men would approach the second half.
The intentions were clear, though, to keep pressure on an overstretched County defence. And within the first ten minutes ‘Well should have extended their lead.
Firstly, Campbell broke upfield with Polworth and Long on either side but when the ball was finally worked to Aarons his shot was blocked at the edge of the box.
Then Long cut in from the wing but as he hared towards the front post he should have rolled the ball to the waiting Polworth rather than rattle his shot off the foot of the post.
The ‘Well striker was again denied in the 58th minute when Aarons’ tempting cross fell between O’Hara and Long and the latter’s strike from four yards looked destined for the net only for Laidlaw to produce a fabulous reflex save to palm the ball away.
Undeterred, the Steelmen continued to pepper the visitor’s goal with a series of crosses but it still needed a third goal to kill off any chance of the Dingwall side stealing a point.
Fifteen minutes from time the third arrived. Long collected Tait’s throw-in and after twisting his way to the byeline he drilled the ball across the six-yard box leaving Campbell with a simple tap in and claim his second goal of the game.
Long’s efforts were acknowledged by the home fans as he received a standing ovation as he made way for Watt.
Aarons’ part in the victory was also recognised when he came off providing Christian Ilic with around eight minutes to get involved in the action.
By then the points were firmly in the bag as the home side controlled the game until the end.
The icing on the cake came in the final minute when after some delightful interchanging passes from the midfield, man of the match Campbell slid the ball in front of Watt and from wide on the right he drilled the ball across Laidlaw and inside the ‘keeper’s right hand post.