In a performance which was more gritty than pretty, Motherwell made it back-to-back league wins with a narrow, hard-fought victory over Dundee.
Man of the match Tony Watt grabbed the all-important goal in the 33rd minute, after the Fir Park side had recovered from a difficult opening half hour.
But the real stars were at the other end, as ‘Well defiantly defended their lead when Jake Carroll’s red card reduced the side to ten men for the final 12 minutes.
Brilliant sunshine and short sleeves provided the perfect backdrop as a Covid restriction-free Fir Park allowed ‘Well fans back into their own seats around the three home stands.
Graham Alexander stood by the same starting side which collected all three points at Livingston last week.
That meant Liam Kelly wore the captain’s armband in the absence of Stephen O’Donnell. Kevin van Veen, recovered from injury, had to settle for a place on the bench alongside midweek signing Sean Goss.
Juhani Ojala made his home debut and the Finnish international defender saw plenty of the ball, as the early play was largely confined to Motherwell’s half.
And Dundee’s early dominance should have been rewarded with the opening goal after 17 minutes.
Luke McCowan played the ball in to the unmarked Paul McMullan 25 yards from goal.
The Dens midfielder had time to take a touch before drilling his shot high past Kelly, only to see the ball rebound from the underside of the crossbar, bounce beyond the goal-line and away much to ‘Well’s relief.
The occasional break down the left from Kaiyne Woolery, brought some relief to the home defence as the Fir Park men found it difficult to work the ball out of their own half.
An injury to Charlie Adam after 28 minutes cost Dundee their influential playmaker and after all of the players had used it as a water break, ‘Well restarted on the front foot.
After 31 minutes a neat interchange between Liam Grimshaw, Justin Amaluzor and Mark O’Hara at the edge of the box, sent Watt through on goal but his attempt to flick the ball beyond Adam Legzdins was blocked by the Dens’ ‘keeper.
The ‘Well striker was not to be denied, though, and two minutes later he claimed his third goal from three consecutive league games.
Liam Fontaine’s trip on Amaluzor presented Carroll with a free kick 45 yards from goal. And when the full-back floated the ball towards the penalty spot, Watt’s cute back header steered the ball through a packed box and beyond the diving Legzdins.
Three minutes from the intervalm Watt was again involved when his lofted pass found Woolery racing towards the byline. But with Grimshaw hovering around the six-yard box, the former Tranmere Rovers man’s cut-back was turned behind for a corner.
From the resulting set-piece Carroll’s outswinging cross found Ricki Lamie climbing highest, only to power his header over the bar from eight yards.
Clearly impressed that his men had responded in the first half after a poor start the ‘Well boss made no changes at half time.
Alexander’s men started where they left off. Watt was again the threat, sending Amaluzor down the right, before continuing his run into the box where he just failed to control the return pass.
Dundee, having recovered from the blow of going behind, still posed a threat and a deep cross from Cammy Kerr found his fellow full back Jordan McGhee who headed high over when he should have tested Kelly.
In the 65th minute, Ojala’s powerful header down the middle of the visitor’s half forced Legzdins to race from his box and boot the ball away as Watt closed in.
A couple of minutes later Alexander freshened up the side with a double substitution, Van Veen to lead the attack and Goss making his debut on the left of midfield.
Before either could get involved, though, Kelly celebrating his inclusion in the Scotland squad for the forthcoming World Cup qualifying matches, made a crucial save.
Despite stumbling to the ground, Jason Cummings managed to get his powerful shot away from 15 yards but the ‘Well ‘keeper stood firm to beat the ball away.
With Dundee pressing and Motherwell playing to the counter, the home side’s task was made all the more difficult when they were reduced to 10 men with 12 minutes remaining.
Carroll’s tackle on Max Anderson was robust and although he appeared to have played the ball, his follow through caught the Dundee player. Referee Willie Collum immediately produced a red card as Carroll made his way up the tunnel much to the annoyance of the home fans.
Watt, to a standing ovation, then made way for Nathan McGinley as the home side set out to defend their one-goal advantage.
That was almost doubled after 83 minutes. Goss with a free kick wide on the right, decided he had few options with only three team mates in the box and elected to deliver a wicked curling ball which Legzdins had to react smartly and turn over his crossbar.
However, in the closing stages, it was a case of backs to the wall to protect Kelly’s goal and their slender lead to ensure another three points and extend an impressive start to the league season.