Motherwell’s leading marksman, Louis Moult, came off the bench to notch his sixth goal of the campaign and, temporarily at least, halt the Kilmarnock revival.
It was a smash-and-grab affair by the visitors, who had clearly come intent on leaving with a point but, due to perseverance and some poor finishing from their rivals, managed to leave with all three.
Visiting manager Mark McGhee recorded his first victory since replacing Ian Baraclough last month and he could scarcely have been happier.
“The three points has to be the be-all and end-all, but I’m still in a learning curve with these players and that’s why I took out two strikers and put in the other two, to give an opportunity,” he explained. “I need to learn as much as I can about them as quickly as I can. So to come away from home and get a win during that process is a bonus.”
There was little to separate the teams during a tedious first half during which both were guilty of indulging in pointless possession.
Build-ups were laboured, allowing opponents to regain their shape whenever they lost the ball, and chances were few and far between.
Kilmarnock captain Rory McKenzie and veteran Motherwell striker Scott McDonald had the only efforts on target during that opening 45 minutes but neither man seriously tested the goalkeeper.
A spat between home full-back Kevin McHattie and visiting winger Lionel Ainsworth resulted in both being cautioned but that was a rare flash of passion in an insipid contest.
Rather more serious was the 55th-minute spat between Kilmarnock defender Stuart Findlay and forward Theo Robinson. The latter escaped punishment for an apparent head butt on the former, who was shown a yellow card when he took exception to the act of aggression.
Meanwhile, back at the football, Connor Ripley did well to parry a fierce drive from 20 yards by Kallum Higginbotham and Josh Magennis contrived to head his team-mate’s flick wide from only six yards.
There was further controversy when referee Bobby Madden halted play just as McKenzie was about to shoot from a promising position to caution Magennis for simulation. Magennis was incensed by the decision and with good reason.
It was about to get worse for the hosts. Stephen Pearson had a shot blocked but it took a benign deflection into the path of Moult, pictured, who drilled it low behind Jamie MacDonald for an unlikely winner.
“It was a sore one to take,” said Kilmarnock manager Gary Locke. “It was a scrappy game but we dominated it. We tried to play football and to move the ball quickly and we put a lot into the game to end up taking nothing from it.”
Incidentally, Moult dedicated his goal to baby daughter Isla, who celebrated her first birthday yesterday and who was at Rugby Park to witness the occasion. Like most of those present, she won’t remember much about it.