A determined Motherwell earned a narrow win over St Mirren and a valuable three points to take them clearer of relegation trouble.
Sitting nine points ahead of 11th placed Kilmarnock, the Fir Park men know that another performance like this will end any relegation worries this season.
In the fourth meeting of the season, ‘Well were aiming to record their first win over the Paisley outfit. However, after two draws already this year, not surprisingly another tight game was envisaged.
And so it turned out. The main talking points will be Liam Kelly’s tremendous first-half penalty save and Devante Cole’s instinctive second-half winner, which turned the game ‘Well’s way.
The Steelmen, though, passed up a couple of great chances to tie up the points before stout defending in the last 15 minutes was enough to secure all three points.
Graham Alexander made one change from the starting side which convincingly saw off Formartine United in the Scottish Cup last week, Ricki Lamie replacing Tyler Magloire at the heart of the home defence alongside Declan Gallagher.
‘Well looked to make the better start when after two minutes Nathan McGinley’s cross found Devante Cole 6 yards in front of goal but the striker glanced his header wide of target.
Saints replied almost immediately when top scorer Jamie McGrath cut inside Lamie but his deft dink from the edge of the box wasn’t enough to beat Kelly who blocked the ball with his left hand.
The visitors, with a five-man midfield, dictated most of the early play as the pressure mounted around the home goal. Ilkay Durmas came close with a free kick from 25 yards as the Fir Park side struggled to get on the ball and find their front three.
After 20 minutes, in a rare threat on Jak Alnwick’s goal, Jordan Roberts broke into the box only to come out second best in a 50/50 with the Saints’ keeper.
With 24 minutes played Stephen O’Donnell’s pass found Devante Cole, who in turn a played a superb ball between Marcus Fraser and Conor McCarthy.
As Christopher Long latched onto the pass he looked certain to open the scoring but his strike was too close to Alnwick who did well to block the shot.
Five minutes later O’Donnell and Cole combined again, this time the striker’s cute backheel sending Roberts free. But after progressing to the edge of the box the Hearts’ loanee blasted his shot high into the south stand.
Having passed up two good chances the Steelmen finished the first half on the back foot as Saints pressed for the opening goal.
It should have arrived after 33 minutes when O’Donnell’s challenge just inside the corner of the box brought down Dylan Connolly. When McGrath stepped up to take the resultant penalty he was odds on to add to his impressive haul of converted spot kicks – until his low effort was brilliantly palmed away by Kelly at full stretch.
Before half-time the ‘Well ‘keeper produced a couple of routine saves to deny former Fir Park striker Lee Erwin as Saints failed to turn their upperhand into goals.
In an attempt to get a hold of the midfield in the second half Barry Maguire replaced Stevie Lawless at the interval.
Things immediately looked brighter within four minutes of the restart. Long burst to the byeline before driving the ball hard across goal but as Cole wited for a tap-in, Alnwick smothered the ball at his front post.
Minutes later ‘Well were forced into another change. Roberts who had been on the receiving end of a few hefty challenges, was stretchered off after lengthy treatment on his knee – allowing Mark O’Hara to return to action after his long absence due to illness.
The next action was in the home box where O’Donnell’s poor touch gave the ball to Jake Doyle-Hayes. The Scotland full back was a relieved man as the Saints’ midfielder blasted the ball over the bar.
Having survived that scare, the Fir Park side opened the scoring after 62 minutes with a rather bizarre goal.
O’Donnell’s long throw sent Long racing down the right touchline. When the former Blackpool striker cut towards the corner of the box he had only one thought as he hammered a left-foot drive on goal.
Alnwick found it too hot to handle and with Cole bearing down on him, the ‘keeper palmed the ball off the ‘Well striker’s outstretched leg and then watch as the ball rebounded behind him and trickle over his goal line.
As Alnwick desperately appealed for an infringement Cole happily accepted his 10th goal of the season.
Eight minutes later Alexander’s men almost doubled their lead. Once again Long created the opening as he sprinted to the dead ball line. His cut-back was perfect for Allan Campbell and from 10 yards his low drive was just forced round the post by Alnwick.
As Saints pushed for the equaliser the home side had another chance to tie up the points. This time it was O’Donnell who burst forward but once he got into the visitor’s box Cole took the ball off him, only to curl his shot beyond the ‘keeper and his left hand post.
With ten minutes remaining Bevis Mugabi replaced Long as the ‘Well boss set up his side to consolidate their lead.
The Fir Park side was then content to give Saints possession and deny the Paisley men anything in around the box, resolutely protecting Kelly’s goal deep into seven minutes added on time for a hard-fought victory