MOTHERWELL ended up hanging on by their fingernails at Fir Park last night to set up a showdown with Aberdeen at Pittodrie.
Dominant in the opening
Scorers: Motherwell - Sutton (4 pen), Warren (32 og); St Johnstone - Shinnie (55)
45 minutes, Stuart McCall’s players lost the plot after conceding a soft goal after the break but rode their luck to emerge with the victory they needed. If they can achieve a similar outcome this weekend then they will overtake the Dons and claim second place for the second season running. Inverness, meanwhile, must now avoid losing at home to St Johnstone in order to avoid slipping down to sixth.
It did not take the home side long to assert their authority, although they were aided and abetted by some dilatory defending. There were only three minutes on the clock when Ross Draper, attempting to shield Lionel Ainsworth’s through ball as it ran out for a goal-kick, found himself dispossessed by John Sutton.
Draper then compounded the felony by fouling the striker from behind. Referee Willie Collum had no option but to award a penalty kick and, while Draper held his had in his hands, Motherwell’s leading marksman sent Dean Brill to the right and the ball to the left for goal number 23 of a productive campaign.
Buoyed by the early goal, the Steelmen sprayed passes around with confidence and, when Sutton freed Zaine Francis-Angol on the left, the winger’s dipping shot was only inches over.
Greg Tansey was then cautioned for a professional foul on Steven Hammell and Brill did well to claw the full-back’s resulting free-kick out from under his crossbar.
However, Inverness were once again the architects of their own destruction when they conceded a second a third of the way through the match. Sutton failed to connect with the corner whipped in by Iain Vigurs but he needn’t have bothered: Ross Draper, diving in for an attempted clearance, headed into his own net from point-blank range. It could easily have been worse for the Highlanders. When Francis-Angol picked out Ainsworth with a cutback the winger’s drive beat Brill but came back off the bar.
The visitors survived a penalty scare when a Sutton shot appeared to bee handled by Warren and, galvanised by that escape, they immediately raced to the other end and reduced the leeway.
It would also join the two previous goals in any DVD bloopers collection. Graeme Shinnie’s scuffed shot from the edge of the penalty area ought to have been gathered comfortably by Lee Hollis but a lapse of concentration by the goalkeeper saw the ball trundle past his left hand and into the net.
Motherwell suddenly found themselves under pressure and Danny Devine ought to at least have hit the target with a free header from Aaron Doran’s free-kick. Just 80 supporters had made the long journey down the A9 last night and they were at least able to draw some succour from events at Tynecastle, amusing themselves with chants of “Butcher’s going down”.
Hollis partially atoned for his earlier error when he managed to keep out a free-kick from Tansey. Motherwell were living on their nerves by then and they had another let-off in stoppage time when Billy McKay, who had been subdued all evening, finally got a shot away only to see it rebound from the inside of Hollis’ right-hand post.
Motherwell: Hollis; Reid, Hutchinson, McManus, Hammell; Ainsworth (Moore 78), Lasley, Vigurs, Francis-Angol (Anier 78); Sutton, McFadden (Kerr 55). Subs: Neilsen, Erwin, Murray, Leitch.
Inverness CT: Brill; Raven, Warren, Devine, Tremarco; Watkins (Christie 75), Tansey, Shinnie, Draper; Doran (Williams 65), McKay. Subs: Esson, Vincent, Ross, Polworth, Sutherland.