A late Michael Higdon strike saw St. Mirren emerge from a turgid contest with a vital three points in their fight against relegation.
But that will be no concern to Motherwell, who struggled throughout, and whose best chances came in the form of two strong penalty claims which were turned down by Steve Conroy.
In the end Higdon’s goal settled things for the Saints who were rewarded for a busy and determined performance.
Danny Lennon’s side arrived at Fir Park knowing a win would take them a massive eight points above bottom-placed Hamilton – but, conversely, on the back of a run of nine SPL games without a win.
‘Well made one change from the side which battled to a victory over the Accies at the weekend, with Ross Forbes dropping out to be replaced by Chris Humphrey.
Stuart McCall had previously suggested that the three games following the defeat at Ibrox would be ‘season defining’ – and the Steelmen came into the third match of the series with two excellent wins already under their belts.
A timid opening was enlivened by a surging Tom Hateley run and superb cross, which was just cleared by the Saints’ defence – with claret and amber jerseys ready to pounce. The resulting corner caused all sorts of problems in the Buddies’ area, but they managed to smuggle clear.
It took until the twenty-minute mark for another move of note to take place, with Paul McGowan firing a low drive from just inside the box. But it was comfortably fielded by big Darren Randolph.
A low-key first half burst alive with controversy five minutes later. After a neat exchange of passes inside the box, Keith Lasley shimmied towards goal. After neatly sidestepping one challenge he appeared to be brought down by Saints captain John Potter – but Steve Conroy waved play on.
That Motherwell penalty claim was followed by a decent free-kick from Tom Hateley – which forced a sharp sprawling save from Paul Gallacher. A header over the bar, moments later, from John Sutton illustrated Motherwell’s push for the opener.
Both sides exchanged chances as the game progressed towards half time. A Steven Thomson drive was deflected towards goal via the head of Shaun Hutchison, forcing Darren Randolph to make a plunging save. And that was immediately followed by a trundling low shot from Jamie Murphy, which drifted harmlessly wide.
Despite a couple of decent ‘Well chances over the course of the first period, the visitors finished the half in the ascendancy, and could have gone in at the break ahead, but Craig Dargo headed into the arms of Darren Randolph from six yards out.
Lennon’s troops continued to make the running in the early stages of the second half, with Dargo coming close twice in the space of five minutes, once from a close-range header and the other from a powerful shot – which narrowly flew past the ‘Well near post.
With St. Mirren looking sharp and lively, Motherwell needed a response, and Tom Hateley almost provided it. The Monaco-born full-back delivered a superb free-kick from the corner of the box, forcing Paul Gallacher to parry wide.
Fir Park was up in arms again as Conroy, once more, denied Motherwell a decent shout for a penalty, as Francis Jeffers appeared to be clipped in the box by McAusland. The former Queen of the South man, on first viewing, looked lucky to escape.
The Steelmen may rue penalty claims which were denied, and they paid the price when Michael Higdon opened the scoring.
The big English substitute was slipped through on goal with a scything pass, and he dispatched a low drive past Darren Randolph, off the inside of the post. The finish was undoubtedly aided by a cruel bobble which saw the shot loop over the keeper’s outstretched palm.
The home side finally injected some pace into their game in the closing stages, but by that point it was too late, and not even late efforts from John Sutton and Esteban Casagolda could salvage a point from a disappointing evening in North Lanarkshire.
[tab:As it happened]
Graham Barnstaple at Fir Park
Full time – Saints win by a goal to nil, and sadly I don’t think we can complain too much, they created most of the good chances in the game
90mins – Only two minutes being added on! Strange!
83mins – Lost twitter again there…..over capacity (whatever that means). Sadly with only two minutes to go we are a goal down, Higdon scoring in the 82nd minute. Horrible bobble over Randolph.
71mins – The crowd just been announced as 3613
64mins – Jeffers goes down in the box. That looked like a penalty to me!
59mins – Just about an hour gone, and sadly it is 60 minutes those of us here won’t get back!!
55mins – The change sees Hammell at left back, Gunning moves to right back and Hateley into midfield, think I’ve got it all!!
54mins – Another dipping free kick from Hateley beaten out by Gallagher, that’s been our only threat
53mins – Lasley forced to leave field with an injury, looks like his ribs, replaced by Steven Hammell
48mins – Yellow card for Lasley for a tug on Hugh Murray, that his seventh of the season
46mins – Sorry – lost the signal over half time there!! We are back and so are the teams, with three minutes played already
45mins – 1 minute being added on (unfortunately)
41mins – another chance for Saints but Dargo’s close range header is easily held by Randolph who is well positioned
35mins – Thomson’s shot deflected by head of Hutchinson Randolph pulls off a diving save to his right, comfortable enough.
31mins – In-swinging Hateley free kick punched away at his front post by Gallagher, and then Sutton heads a cross just over
26mins – Lasley barged over in the Saints box this time but once again no pen given by ref Conroy, possibly obstruction but a certain foul none-the-less
22mins – Paul McGowan finds space in the Well box but shoots straight at Randolph who saves easily
16mins – Dargo tumbles under the challenge of Jennings but penalty claims are waved away – looked a decent shout to me – dodged a bullet?
10mins – not much happening, we’ve forced a couple of corners but without causing any real danger. Ball has been changed once as well!!
1mins – We lose the toss, we kick off and we are shooting towards the preferred South Stand end which is empty tonight, Saints fans in POD Stand
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“They (St Mirren) came and showed the hunger and desire, you could see they were fighting for their lives and we just never matched that.
“And that’s the worst thing that can be put at the team. I don’t know if we’re thinking that we’re better than we are but they certainly were first to the ball, won more tackles and just showed a greater enthusiasm and that’s not acceptable,” said McCall.
“It was more like an end-of-season game from us, the way we approached the first half. It wasn’t acceptable.
“The second half was a little better but not a great deal to be honest.
St Mirren manager Danny Lennon:
“It’s a very welcome three points at the end of the evening. We got a great response from Sunday (the defeat to Hibernian).
“The way they come to work in the morning, their attitude is first class.
“They deserved that, it’s been well overdue, for the efforts that the boys put in. The mentality of the boys tonight was second to none.”