THIS defeat was like a blow to the solar plexus for Thistle, who had contributed much to what eventually became an enthralling spectacle.
Scorers: Motherwell - Lasley 43; Ainsworth 52; Sutton 85; McManus 88; Partick Thistle - Erskine 36; Higginbotham 65 pen, 72
For manager Alan Archibald, however, this was Groundhog Day as his team twice took the lead and then threw it all away by conceding two goals in the final five minutes.
Archibald looked shell-shocked and warned his players that they cannot survive if they continue to fritter away leads. Thistle have now taken just nine points from the last 48 available to them and that is surely relegation form.
“We’ve got to man up,” said Thistle manager Alan Archibald. “It’s no use saying that we’re a young team, even though we are. We’ve got to learn.
“I thought we deserved to take at least a point from the game. Our play merited that but this has been our Achilles heel all season and it’s very frustrating.
“When you score three goals at Fir Park it should be enough to win the game. We would have moved up to ninth and that makes it even harder to take.”
The very fact the match took place at all was down to the heroic efforts of 50 home fans, who turned up early in order to push some 3,000 litres of water off the pitch.
Even so, the surface was soft and prone to cutting up and referee Stephen Finnie may have taken the conditions into account when he elected not to caution Kallum Higginbotham for a reckless slide tackle on Keith Lasley.
In the circumstances one does not wish to be over-critical but moments of quality were few and far between until the visitors took the lead nine minutes from the interval.
Higginbotham was prominent again, supplying Chris Erskine 15 yards out. The midfielder then scored his first goal since returning on loan from Dundee United, turning Shaun Hutchinson before firing in a shot which Gunnar Nielsen could only push, rather feebly, into his own net.
Motherwell restored parity when a speculative shot from Keith Lasley ricocheted off the seemingly omnipresent Higginbotham, arcing over the hapless Paul Gallacher and into the net.
The home side then took the lead with the best goal of the afternoon. Lionel Ainsworth started and finished it, playing a wall pass with James McFadden before firing into the roof of the net.
Unfortunately for the winger, his moment of glory was brief. Just 13 minutes later a forward’s challenge on Aaron Taylor-Sinclair saw Mr Finnie pointing to the spot and – who else? – Higginbotham converted the award. The midfielder, who had a spell on loan at Fir Park last season, punished his old club further in the 72nd minute, beating Nielsen with a low drive from an acute angle.
With six minutes remaining Higginbotham was substituted and went off to a standing ovation from the travelling fans. How quickly their mood changed, however.
Just 60 seconds later John Sutton, previously anonymous, beat Gallacher with a firm downward header from an Ainsworth cross.
Thistle may have found that hard to take but worse was to come.
Stephen McManus timed his run perfectly to get on the end of Steven Hammell’s pacy delivery and send a header over Gallacher and under his crossbar for the winner.
Team, goals, bookings
Motherwell: Nielsen, Carswell, Hammell, Lasley, Hutchinson, McManus, Francuis-Angol, Vigurs (Anier, 77), McFadden, Sutton, Ainsworth (Lawson, 90).
Subs not used: Thomas, Leitch, Shirkie, Stewart, Murray.
Goals: K Lasley 43; L Ainsworth 52; J Sutton 85; S McManus 88.
Booked: S Carswell, K Lasley, L Ainsworth.
Partick Thistle: Gallacher, McMillan, Taylor-Sinclair, Bannigan, Mair, Balatoni, Erskine (Elliott, 81), Buaben, Taylor (Doolan, 78), Higginbotham (Craigen, 84), Fraser.
Subs not used: Fox, O’Donnell, Muirhead, Lawless.
Goals: C Erskine 37; K Higginbotham 66 (pen), 72.
Booked: S Bannigan, C Balatoni.
Referee: S Finnie