St Johnstone’s spectacular run of success on the road – they had won seven away matches in a row – came to a grinding halt on a bitterly cold evening at Fir Park.
Motherwell now have the momentum ahead of their Lanarkshire derby against abject Hamilton. This was their third consecutive win and hoisted them into eighth place, behind Partick Thistle on goal difference.
Yet home manager Mark McGhee claimed that his players had rode their luck in taking all three points.
“I didn’t think we deserved to be 2-0 up at half-time,” he admitted. “I’d told a few of our players yesterday that I was a bit concerned with the disjointed nature of our preparations – having a game postponed, players having days off etc.
“Consequently, I thought we were off the pace a wee bit, compared to how we’ve been recently. So I was happy to be two up.”
Motherwell, unsurprisingly, began with the same starting 11 which had beaten Celtic at Parkhead and the hosts had the opportunity to draw first blood in the sixth minute.
A Marvin Johnson shot was deflected into the path of Louis Moult but Motherwell’s leading marksman volleyed wastefully over from eight yards out.
Four minutes later the home supporters broke into applause to commemorate the eighth anniversary of the passing of midfielder Phil O’Donnell, who collapsed on the pitch at Fir Park towards the end of a victory over Dundee United.
Scott McDonald then cut in from the left flank to fire in a shot which found only the side netting while Chris Kane’s effort from distance beat Connor Ripley but failed to dip under the crossbar.
The impressive Connor Ripley then dived to his right to keep out a low drive from Steven McLean which was heading for the bottom right-hand corner.
Saints had lost both Michael O’Halloran and Murray Davidson by the time Motherwell opened the scoring from a set-piece in the 37th minute.
Irish central defender Ben Hall had the freedom of Fir Park to head home Steven Hammell’s inswinging corner and the home side doubled their advantage following a great escape.
Substitute Craig Thomson, who had replaced O’Halloran, matched the winger’s pace with a searing run down the right and his inch-perfect cross ought to have been swept home by Kane.
However, there was a lack of conviction about the striker’s attempted conversion and Ripley spread himself to make the save.
The Perth men paid for their profligacy immediately. Motherwell broke upfield and McDonald released Stephen Pearson on the left.
Darnell Fisher did well to block the veteran midfielder’s first effort but Pearson retained the composure to fire the rebound behind the helpless Mannus.
It was, on occasion, a feisty affair, and Brian Easton could have had no complaints about the caution he collected for his fresh-air swipe at Johnson in the 46th minute.
Ripley then produced arguably his best save of the evening, twisting to push over a header from Liam Craig, who had been picked out for a second time by a fine delivery from Thomson.
Yet the home side were not content to sit back and soak up the pressure, offering a palpable threat of their own when Saints over-committed.
McDonald has the experience to exploit such chinks in an opponent’s rearguard and he forced a fine save from Mannus with a raking 20-yarder and then was inches away with a diving header.
Substitutes David Clarkson and Lionel Ainsworth also came close for Mark McGhee’s side as Saints’ challenge petered out.
“I was pleased with our performance but not the result,” said Wright. “Sometimes the better team loses and that’s the case tonight.
“We had the better chances, although they had some opportunities towards the end when we were really going for it.
“I can’t remember Alan Mannus having anything really difficult to do but we gave away goals at bad times.
“The first was a soft corner, which we didn’t really deal with and, at the second, Chris should have scored but he doesn’t know whether to hit it first time or take it round the ‘keeper, does neither and they go straight up the park and score.”
Motherwell: Ripley, Law, Hall, McManus, Hammell, Grimshaw, Lasley, Pearson, Johnson (Clarkson 84), McDonald, Moult (Ainsworth 61). Subs not used: Laing, Samson, Thomas, McFadden, Watt.
St Johnstone: Mannus, Fisher, Mackay, Anderson, Easton, Millar, Kane (Sutton 73), Davidson (Scobbie 36), Craig, MacLean, O’Halloran (Thomson 22). Subs not used: Clark, Shaughnessy, Caddis, Cummins.