A COMEBACK unrivalled since Paul Scholes returned from retirement saw Kilmarnock register a shock away victory, their first against top-six opponents on the road this season.
SCORERS: Motherwell - Vigurs 41; Kilmarnock - McKenzie 66, Slater 90
Kilmarnock were fortunate only to be a goal down when, two-thirds of the way through the game, Motherwell simply stopped playing.
To their credit, Allan Johnston’s men seized the day and stepped on the gas to make sure they took all three points courtesy of a stoppage-time winner by Craig Slater.
“We left it late and it was good to get the goal at the end,” said Slater. “I just picked the ball up and started running at the full-back.
“I managed to come inside and I was just so happy to see it hit the net. It’s my first goal in senior football so for it to be a winner so close to the end makes it even more special. At this time of the season it is all about getting results and avoiding that play-off place.
“With other results going our way it was a big day for us, but if we keep playing like that then we can keep moving up the table.”
It was the side fighting relegation which almost drew first blood in the 13th minute when Gunnar Nielsen had to dive to his left to beat away a dipping 20-yarder by Robbie Muirhead.
Six minutes later, a perfectly-weighted pass by Alexei Eremenko bisected the home defence and Rory McKenzie ought to have done better than knock the ball tamely into Neilsen’s hands.
Motherwell responded with a free kick by John Sutton which Craig Samson held at the second attempt. The hosts were gaining momentum, though, and Sean Clohessy was cautioned for a cynical foul on Zaine Francis-Angol.
Kilmarnock then had Robbie Muirhead to thank for clearing a Craig Reid header off the line as the home side continued to ramp up the pressure.
It eventually told five minutes from the interval when Reid and Francis-Angol combined to tee up Iain Vigurs and the midfielder drove the ball behind Samson from the edge of the penalty area.
Their promising start by now a fading memory, Killie had a job on their hands simply keeping the scoreline respectable. Vigurs and John Sutton carved open their defence only for the former to shoot into the side netting. Samson beat away a venomous drive by Craig Moore and Sutton missed a sitter, heading a Lasley cross wide from inside the six-yard box.
And then, out of left field, came a reversal of fortunes for both sides. Motherwell began defending deeper and deeper, inviting the visitors to attack them.
Perhaps it was a cunning plan, devised with the intention of catching them on the break. Whatever, Kilmarnock duly accepted the invitation and belief began to return to the blue-and-white shirts.
Stephen McManus threw himself in front of a piledriver by Vitalijs Maksimenko and Neilsen punched clear a swerving effort by Eremenko.
The Finn was orchestrating every attack and he played a pivotal role in their equaliser. He played in Jackson Irvine, who surged to the 18-yard line before releasing McKenzie and the midfielder’s low angled drive was unerring.
After McKenzie left the field on a stretcher following a collision with Steven Hammell, Eremenko squandered an excellent opportunity to score during time added on.
Set free by Kris Boyd, the Finn saw his insouciant lob bounce harmlessly off the top of the bar when he ought to have put his foot through the ball.
Fortunately for him, Craig Slater appeared to get him out of jail. The youngster cut in from the left and advanced, unchallenged, to the edge of the penalty area.
With Boyd demanding a pass, the midfielder elected to go for glory and his low shot found its way inside Neilsen’s left-hand post.
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall claimed that the decisive strike was a fluke. “I’ve just seen that goal again and Gunnar is saving it until it hits a bobble at the last second and goes over his hand,” he said.
“Maybe they were due that bit of luck but we were trying to win the game at 1-1 and they broke away and scored. A draw would probably have been a fair result but we don’t settle for draws at home.”