Dundee marked Neil McCann’s first match as manager by ending a dismal run of seven straight defeats with a victory which saw them leapfrog their hosts who now occupy the relegation play-off spot.
While McCann was thrilled, Motherwell counterpart Steven Robinson was left raging at the officials for failing to award what he believed was a clear goal.
McCann said: “I’m so proud of them. I said to them before the match that I know it’s not easy when a change happens.
“I was asking for a high demand in training. They gave me a full week of everything they had. I know at times we came under pressure today but I was comfortable, I trusted them.
“We’ve lost seven games in a row so it’s natural to play a bit deep, and I wasn’t having a go at them in the changing room.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am for them because sometimes you give everything and you don’t get the rewards, but we got them and I told them to go home and really enjoy it.
“The most important thing for me when I came in was to stop the bleeding, and stop the defeats.”
Neither side flattered themselves in the opening exchanges, Motherwell dominating possession without showing a cutting edge whilst Dundee struggled to string passes together. It was therefore a surprise that spectators had to wait until the half-hour mark for the first effort on goal when Louis Moult controlled an Elliot Frear cross only to send a shot straight into the arms of visiting keeper Scott Bain. Moult took aim again in the 35th minute but this time his header from another Frear delivery flew over.
Motherwell paid for their inability to make the breakthrough when the visitors took the lead on the stroke of half-time.
A Kevin Holt cross was fumbled by Well keeper Craig Samson before the ball fell to the predatory Mark O’Hara who slammed it into the net from close range with what was the Dark Blues’ first effort on goal.
Things could only improve on the restart – and they did, with greater urgency on both sides sparking a flurry of goals.
The Steelmen fell further behind just three minutes into the second half when another bursting run down the left from Holt allowed him to pick out O’Hara. This time the midfielder scuffed his shot but his blushes were spared when the loose ball fell for Marcus Haber who converted from close range.
However, the deficit was reduced two minutes later when Moult lashed a shot into the roof of the net following a corner.
A spell of three goals in nine minutes concluded when the Dens Park side stretched their lead again, Craig Wighton crossing for O’Hara who headed towards goal only for Haber to deflect the ball beyond Samson. The Steelmen refused to accept defeat but their attempts to claim a lifeline were largely repelled by a resolute Dundee defence.
Motherwell thought they were back in it when Ben Heneghan’s 77th minute header appeared to cross the line before being cleared by James Vincent but referee Steven McLean waved play on.
Motherwell did eventually reduce the deficit with ten minutes to go as Lionel Ainsworth picked out Chris Cadden who tapped in from six yards. But the home side were unable to find the equaliser as the final whistle left them firmly embroiled in the relegation scrap while Dundee can breathe a little easier.
McCann added: “I’ve set the guys a target and we’ll drive towards it. For the club it’s a huge three points because it changes the momentum for us. But it is only three points.”
Referring to Heneghan’s header, Robinson said: “It’s extremely tough to take. We’ve played well but lost the game, and lost a point based on a ridiculous decision again, which cannot keep happening at this level.
“It’s too big a game and too big a circumstance to get it wrong continually. Steven McLean gets no help form anyone on the other side of the pitch – it’s a disgrace.
“So whether I get in trouble for saying that or not, they need help. They’re human beings. I am well aware people make mistakes but it can’t happen at this level.
“We should have won the game comfortably but if you make errors you’re going to lose the game.
“The fourth official thought it was in. People lose their jobs over decisions like this. Our players did make individual errors to lose the game as well by the way.
“We’ve got it in our hands, we play Ross County next week and that becomes an even bigger game.”