Motherwell’s confidence and momentum in-front of goal was evident throughout an exceptional five-star victory over relegation rivals Ross County.
Desperate to atone for the dismal defeat in Dingwall last December, the Steelmen made a whirlwind start to the game. Two quickfire goals from Andy Halliday and Blair Spittal had Motherwell in dreamland, with Theo Bair also denied twice by the County ‘keeper inside the first 22 minutes.
By the time Bair scored from the penalty spot, for the fifth consecutive league game, the match and the three points were in the bag. It took until the final five minutes of the second half for Kettlewell’s men to add two more, with an incredible second for Spittal and a first for debutant Jack Vale.
That meant the Fir Park faithful could not only enjoy the team’s most emphatic win of the season, but see the Steelmen move six points clear of County and rise to 8th place in the league table.
Stuart Kettlewell kept to the same starting eleven that produced a fine performance on Saturday against Kilmarnock and should have ultimately had three points to show for their efforts.
Former ‘Well player Derek Adams returned to Fir Park with County three points and one place behind the Steelmen.
Even at this stage of the season, this was regarded as the proverbial ‘six-pointer’ for two teams desperate to climb away from the relegation play-off spot. And with both teams finding wins hard to come by, an open competitive game was anticipated.
That was made clear within the first minute when there was action in both boxes.
Motherwell though, quickly established the general pattern of play within the first half as they surged relentlessly towards the County goal.
It took the Steelmen only eight minutes to make the breakthrough. Spittal and Bair combined on the left before picking out Halliday in the box, who lashed home his first goal for the club and set the home side on the road to a terrific win.
Five minutes later, it was almost a rerun of Saturday’s goal. Spittal split the visitors defence allowing Bair to angle his run towards goal, but George Wickens stood firm to beat away the striker’s effort.
Simon Murray had a chance to fire home an equaliser for the visitors, but Liam Kelly got his body firmly behind the low shot.
After 20 minutes, Bair was again thundering through the centre of the County backline, but as he tried to round Wickens, the keeper bravely dived at his feet to push the ball away.
Two minutes later and the ‘Well doubled their lead. Good interchange of play on the left between Halliday and Georgie Gent allowed Spittal to drag the ball into the corner of the box before firing a powerful drive across the keeper and in off his far post.
Bair and the Fir Park faithful thought he had grabbed number three when he collected a wonderful long ball from Stephen O’Donnell before blasting it high past Wickens, only to be ruled out for offside.
Yet another chance came Well’s way in the 33rd minute, but after doing well to reach the visitor’s byline, Harry Paton made the wrong choice trying to pick out Spittal when Bair was free at the opposite end of the six yard box.
The Canadian striker was not to be denied a goal for his first half efforts, and when his fellow country man Paton was tripped within the 18-yard-box, Bair collected the ball to hammer home the resultant penalty and find the net for his sixth goal in five league games.
Motherwell started the second half in the same fashion but had to replace Halliday with Lennon Miller after only four minutes.
It made little difference to the hosts intention to add a fourth goal, which almost arrived after 53 minutes.
A swift break down the right ended with O’Donnell laying the ball inside to Bair, but after taking a touch at the edge of the box, the striker blasted the ball high over the bar.
Bair had another chance to add to his tally after 73 minutes. Once again Spittal was the provider and as Bair faced the advancing ‘keeper he looked to have netted, but his cute dink over Wickens bounced just past the post.
With 15 minutes remaining, Kettlewell made a triple substitution bringing on debutant Adam Devine, Shane Blaney and Sam Nicholson.
The former Hearts man made an immediate impact, with Bair testing the ‘keeper inside the six-yard box before heading the ball across goal, allowing Nicholson to join a melee with two County defenders in-front of goal.
Nicholson then turned provider, working his way towards the penalty area before laying the ball across to Gent, whose thumping left foot drive forced a fine diving save from the County stopper.
Ten minutes from time, Bair left the field to a standing ovation as Jack Vale came on aiming to mark his debut with a goal.
However, it was Spittal who claimed his second with a stunning strike, curling the ball high past Wickens from 25 yards.
Vale was not to be outdone, and in the final minute, the Blackburn Rovers loanee latched onto Spittal’s pass, nudging the ball past the advancing ‘keeper for a comprehensive and highly impressive win.