IT was an afternoon of leapfrog for Motherwell as they got the win they needed to overtake Inverness Caledonian Thistle and move back into second place in the SPL.
Scorers: Motherwell: Higdon (32)(55), Law (51)
In the scoring charts Michael Higdon almost did likewise with Billy McKay, his two goals taking him level with the Highland striker for league efforts this season.
Netting twice, he took his league tally to 17 and the fact that more than a third of that haul has come against yesterday’s opponents is a key reason why Well are the ones nestled in behind Celtic, with a game in hand over their nearest challengers.
A hat-trick the last time Terry Butcher’s men travelled down to Fir Park and another goal when he and his team-mates headed up to the Highlands in November, Higdon was chasing another hat-trick as this game reached its conclusion.
The Motherwell striker, who must haunt the dreams of yesterday’s defence, said: “I don’t know what it is, because I don’t score against Kilmarnock but Inverness are a team that I do score a lot of goals against.”
These are the two primary candidates in the race for second place in the SPL but Motherwell are a team who are quite happy to be front runners. This was the ninth time they had enjoyed a half-time lead in the SPL this term and they have yet to lose when in that situation. Only once have they had to settle for a share of the points.
Given the nip and tuck nature of their tussle for second place, the surprise is that all the games between this pair have ended with such lop-sided scorelines, with Motherwell scoring 12 goals and conceding just two in their three meetings, which account for one half of all Inverness’ league defeats this term.
In an open encounter, it was Motherwell who had the better finishing power. That delighted Stuart McCall and irritated Butcher, pictured.
“They played their part in the first half but we always carried a threat,” said the Fir Park gaffer. “The difference was clinical finishing.”
His counterpart claimed bad luck had also contributed, bemoaning offside decisions and handball calls, but agreed that along with amateur defending from his side at the first goal, an absence of killer instinct in front of Darren Randolph’s goal had made it impossible to get back into the game. Butcher said: “There’s not many games where we have been second best to teams but unfortunately most of them have been against Motherwell. We were second best and Motherwell deserved the win. They had more hunger and appetite and got the goals at crucial times.”
As play ebbed and flowed in the opening half an hour both teams had their share of possession and sightings of goal and it was Inverness who were first to find the net but, when Aaron Doran’s effort was followed in by Andrew Shinnie, his celebrations were quashed by the sight of the assistant referee’s raised flag.
Three minutes later if looked like Motherwell had got the opener but, after Tom Hateley’s free-kick found its way to Nicky Law on the edge of the area, the midfielder was foiled by his own team-mate as his strike deflected off Higdon and narrowly wide of Ryan Esson’s post.
Two minutes later, the home side did get the scoring started. It was Henrik Ojamaa, a bundle of energy all afternoon, who set up Higdon, albeit with a sclaffed ball into the area, and the striker charged in to slot it into the gaping goalmouth.
Butcher’s men have not been short of the character needed to battle back from such knocks but, with the manager claiming they looked leggy after their midweek exertions against Kilmarnock, the second half started well for their opponents and two quick goals battered any hopes of a Inverness revival into submission.
The first came in the 51st minute and irked the travelling players and supporters, with shouts for a handball in the build up but, with Inverness unable to clear their box after Ojamaa’s effort, Law got on to the ball as it looped up in the box and extended his side’s lead. It was no more than the midfielder’s efforts merited.
But the fact that the handball claim, followed by another a few minutes later in the opposition box were ignored, exasperated Butcher, who believed it was another sign of his side’s ill-fortune. “We have not had any luck. But we just keep going. We have enough ability, belief and skill to not give up hope.”
They just couldn’t muster enough of it yesterday and the game was over as a contest four minutes later when Higdon made a perfect connection and fizzed a left-foot volley past Esson. Law could have made matters even worse for the visitors but his strike in the 81st minute crashed off the bar.