Motherwell waved aside any excuses of injuries and lack of action to comfortably beat Ross County and make it three wins from their last four league games.
While the Fir Park players have been left kicking their heels for four weeks, County have had four competitive games during ‘Well’s forced inactivity.
But after a tight first half when only Tony Watt’s goal separated the sides, the Fir Park men dominated the second 45, with goals from Mark O’Hara, Callum Lang and Devante Cole helping to record the Steelmen’s best win of the season.
Injuries to Liam Grimshaw, Bevis Mugabi and Ricki Lamie meant a couple of defensive changes to the side which last started against Rangers four weeks ago.
Stephen Robinson reverted to a back four with Mark O’Hara a surprise partner alongside Declan Gallagher and a fully fit Nathan McGinley filling the left back position. That allowed Barry Maguire to start his first game of the season, covering O’Hara’s role in front of the back four.
Cole, returning for his second loan spell, made his first appearance in a front three with Tony Watt and Christopher Long.
Despite the long lay-off the Steelmen made a spirited start with Cole and Watt looking lively around the visitors’ box. After six minutes the pair combined to feed the ball to Allan Campbell at the edge of the box but on his left foot, the Scotland Under 21 star lifted his shot wide of goal.
A few minutes later Watt earned a free kick, but although he got his head to Liam Polworth’s ball he could only guide it away from goal.
There was a good pace to the game with both sides eager to exchange quick passes to move the ball from end to end but without exerting any pressure on either goal.
However, Motherwell’s defensive problems were extended after 23 minutes when Trevor Carson raced from his box to head the ball clear but collided with Regan Charles-Cook in the process. After some treatment to his left knee the Northern Ireland ‘keeper played on for a few minutes before he limped off the field allowing Aaron Chapman, signed at the start of the month, to pull on the goalkeeper’s gloves.
While the tall former Peterborough United stopper was settling in front of the empty David Cooper stand, ‘Well raced to the other end and produce the opening goal.
McGinley’s terrific run to the byline and tempting cross into the six-yard box was greatly accepted by Watt who nudged into the net past Ross Doohan.
Two minutes from the end of normal time Polworth’s nod on found Cole at the edge of the box. His swift turn took out Coll Donaldson but his left foot finish sent the ball over the crossbar.
In added on time Chapman came off his line to impressively clutch an Iain Vigurs corner under pressure.
Just before the half time whistle, though, from a tight angle Charles-Cook squeezed the ball under the stand-in ‘keeper, leaving Gallagher to clear the ball off his goal line and keep ‘Well’s slender lead intact at the interval.
That lead might have been extended in a positive start to the second half.
Firstly, Polworth collected the ball 40 yards from goal and with an eye for a drive, advanced past a couple of County players before his well-controlled low shot slipped past the post. Then his corner kick found Gallagher 10 yards in front of goal but the ‘Well captain could only send his header over the bar.
‘Well eventually found the net after 53 minutes when Watt burst into the penalty area only to fall to the deck under Tom Grivosti’s sliding challenge. Referee Craig Napier had no hesitation pointing to the penalty spot and although the Staggies protested, O’Hara calmly stepped up to slam the ball low into the corner of the net to make it 2-0.
Not unexpectedly the Fir Park goal had to survive a response from the Highlanders.
Tony Watt turned goal stopper as he headed Ross Stewart’s net bound effort up and over his own bar. County then had appeals for a penalty of their own as Stewart tumbled to the ground after screwing his shot wide from eight yards.
Hoping to kill off the visitor’s Robinson made his second substitution on the hour, Callum Lang replacing Long. And the move paid off immediately as the Fir Park grabbed a third to wrap up the points.
Polworth’s deep corner found Gallagher and when he headed the ball back across goal, Lang with his first touch slid it inside the post.
Motherwell looked to add to their tally and after 69 minutes Lang did well on the right to release Watt who’s angled drive was well blocked by Doohan.
The County ‘keeper was helpless two minutes later when Cole eased past Donaldson and had time to pick his spot beyond Doohan for a calm finish to make it 4-0 and round off an impressive return to action for the Steemen.