BEFORE this pulsating encounter, Motherwell boasted an execrable home record that included one win in eight games and just seven goals at Fir Park this season, while Ross County were in the midst of a poor run in which they have failed to win any of their past five games.
Motherwell 3 - 2 Ross County
Scorers: Motherwell - Higdon (25), Law (47), Lasley (82); Ross County - Quinn (17, 70)
So something surely had to give during the Highlanders’ first ever visit to this corner of Lanarkshire yesterday. Or perhaps not. Back in August the two sides played out a 0-0 draw in Dingwall that should have been bottled and sold as a cure for insomnia.
This time, however, both sides seemed stuck on fast forward, and whatever they lacked in guile and shape they more than atoned for through effort and endeavour. Much of the responsibility for a thoroughly entertaining match can be laid at the feet of Ross County, who are a far more potent attacking force than they were at the beginning of their life in the SPL, as they proved when scoring three goals against local rivals Inverness Caley Thistle in the cup last week.
The pick of last week’s trio came from Rocco Quinn and he was at it again yesterday, first threatening to score after just five minutes through a beautifully deft chip from the edge of the area and then, ten minutes later, unleashing a thunderbolt of a drive from 30 yards which swerved violently in the air, beating keeper Lee Hollis and hitting the back of the net via the underside of the crossbar.
That goal came against the run of play in an opening period that had been dominated by the home side. Indeed, Motherwell could already have been two ahead by the time Quinn scored had Chris Humphrey hit the target when clean through or had Mark Brown not stuck out a hand to deny Keith Lasley.
As soon as Ross County opened the scoring, however, the Steelmen redoubled their efforts and were soon back on level terms.
The opening for the goal came through a smart turn in the box by Henrik Ojamaa and, although the sparky little Estonian’s shot was smothered by Brown, the keeper was out of position when Humphreys crossed the ball back into the box and Michael Higdon towered above Ross Tokeley to power his header home.
Despite the high tempo and intensity, neither side looked likely to take the half-chances that came their way but that changed immediately after the break when Nicky Law was allowed to run unchallenged down the left wing, taking advantage of the fact that centre back Scott Boyd had moved there in place of usual right back Mihael Kovacevic during half-time, before slotting the ball calmly under Brown.
After Motherwell took the lead they briefly held the whip hand, yet an increasingly confident Ross County gradually began to dominate, fashioning a succession of decent chances. A Tokeley header from a corner was tipped over, Colin McMenamin got a free header from a corner only to send it inches over, while Iain Vigurs, Tokeley and Quinn all tried their luck.
If Motherwell needed a wake-up call they got it midway through the second half when Gary Glen’s smart finish from a neat Quinn through-ball was disallowed for offside. Yet Motherwell continued to live dangerously and eventually paid the price when the ball was played to Quinn on the edge of the box. His first shot was blocked but the ball came straight back to him and his low second shot ricocheted off Adam Cummins to wrong-foot Hollis and find its way into the corner of the Motherwell goal.
Yet, despite barely threatening the County goal since scoring, the Steelmen were not finished and, when substitute Zaine Francis-Angol was put into space down the right with less than ten minutes remaining, the winger picked out Lasley in the box and the Well skipper calmly side-footed the ball into the net to make it 3-2.
The home side then held on for a win that they scarcely deserved on their second-half showing.
No wonder a relieved Lasley admitted that his side, who move into third in the SPL, “were just grateful to emerge with the win because we haven’t had much luck this year”.
Grim-faced County manager Derek Adams was left to rue “some kamikaze defending” and yet another missed opportunity.
Motherwell: Hollis, Hammell, Law (74), Hutchinson, Hateley, Humphrey, Ojamaa (68), M Higdon (80), Murphy, Lasley, Cummins, Subs used, McHugh (68), Carswell (74), Francis-Angol (80).
Ross County: Brown, Fitzpatrick, Boyd, Tokeley, McMenamin, Brittain (67), Vigurs, Quinn,, Glen (67), Kovacevic (45), Fotheringham, Subs used, Munro (45), Cooper (67), Kettlewell (67)
Referee: C Murray. Attendance: 3,739