AL PACINO famously spoke of “inches” in his inspirational Hollywood half-time talk in Any Given Sunday.
SCORERS - Ross County - De Leeuw 61; Motherwell - Sutton 15, 27
Ross County manager Derek Adams has been repeatedly reminded all about the fine line between success and failure this season.
The margins were agonising for the home side yesterday as the quest for a win stretched to seven matches, while Motherwell held out for a recuperative victory.
In the battering rain, John Sutton’s early double did the damage for Motherwell, while Melvin De Leeuw replied for determined County. That only told a fraction of the story, though.
Sutton’s cruelly-deflected opener came moments after a Richard Brittain free-kick crashed of the bar.
Agonising close calls were a big feature of the second half for the embattled Highlanders. As the dust settled, though, County were embedded in the play-off spot and Motherwell’s European aspirations were back on track.
“We totally dominated. With the chances we created, we obviously deserved to win,” Adams said. “We battered Motherwell today and should have won by four or five today. That’s disappointing. The opening goal straight after we hit the bar is the kind of thing that has happened to us this season.
“Stuart McCall, if he’s honest, will say his team got off today.”
County’s recent run had been painful enough, with luck deserting them at times but individual errors prominent and much to blame.
If there was solace to take in the latest defeat, though, the home team looked more solid and more creative yesterday. The fine margins on which results and campaigns can hinge were illustrated after a scrappy start to the game. The Dingwall hosts began encouragingly enough. Keith Lasley caught Graham Carey outside the Motherwell box after 13 minutes to tee up a free-kick opportunity for Brittain.
The skipper’s prowess is renowned from those situations and his dipping, 20-yard strike crashed off the left side of the crossbar.
Motherwell immediately surged upfield and John Sutton’s strike from outside the box deflected wickedly off a County player to beat the unlucky Fraser. It was the Fir Park side’s first goal in three visits to Dingwall and County, understandably, seemed shell-shocked by the sudden turn of events.
There was worse to come for Derek Adams’ side after 27 minutes. On the right side, outside the box, Henri Anier took a speculative dig low through the home defence.
Fraser did well to push the skidding effort away down low but the rebound fell perfectly for Sutton to head his second of the game and eighth of the season, only with a hint of off-side. Adams made a tactical switch soon after, with young Dutchman Marc Klok sacrificed for a striker in countryman Kevin Luckassen. He was quickly in on the action and his header from a Brittain cross nestled on the roof of the net after a decent save from Twardzik. County’s Scott Boyd had to pull off a good block as the prowling Henri Anier struck from the left side of the box, but the half-time whistle sounded without further damage.
County seemed fired up after the break but, four minutes in, Kevin Luckassen’s surging breakaway was cynically stalled by a trip from Stuart Carswell for the game’s first booking. A thundering Ben Gordon run on the left then created fresh danger. Gordon’s low supply across the box was dummied by Brittain but Rocco Quinn’s determined strike was blocked by Twardzik and hacked to safety.
It was game on again for County just after the hour. Luckassen won the ball from Vigurs on the far right and his cross found fellow Dutchman De Leeuw rising above everyone to smash home the header. Just eight minutes later, Brian McLean must have thought he had levelled with another thumping header from Carey’s corner, only for the linesman’s flag to halt celebrations. County were turning the screw, it seemed, but nothing quite came off.
Stuart Mccall saw it very differently from Adams. “Lucky? We controlled large parts of the first half,” the Fir Park boss reflected. “I wouldn’t say we were lucky, more hard-fought and we stuck in there when we needed to.”