Motherwell manager Mark McGhee could not have foreseen, when his side had gone three goals ahead for the second time in this compelling derby, that they would have ended up hanging on by their fingernails.
However, that is exactly what happened at Fir Park yesterday, when it took a four-goal display from home striker Louis Moult, starting his first match since July after undergoing a groin operation, to claim the three points and move Motherwell into fifth place.
“It looked as though we were in cruise control at 3-0 and the way we got to that stage was pleasing – it was the way you hoped to play, with the quality of the goals and of Moultie’s finishing,” said McGhee.
“Then we had those 10 minutes before half-time, when we lost the goal and became a bit nervous. Then we got a penalty to make it 4-1 and I thought we’d settle down and maybe get a fifth.”
With the way they came out of the blocks, Motherwell’s supporters would have been expecting double figures, but it did not pan out that way.
The home side believed they had got their noses in front in the sixth minute when Ryan Bowman headed home but assistant referee Kylie McMullan’s flag indicated that the striker had strayed into an offside position.
However, they did not have long to wait before they scored a legitimate opener and it was as basic as you like; Craig Samson’s clearance was nodded on by Bowman and Moult sprinted ahead of his marker to fire home from 15 yards.
Just seven minutes later Motherwell, and Moult, had doubled their tally. The home defence was posted missing when Richard Tait crossed to the far post and, after goalkeeper Remi Matthews failed to cut it out, Moult nodded into the unguarded net.
Ali Crawford ought to have cut the deficit in half three minutes later but the midfielder blazed over from on the penalty spot.
That miss became more important when Moult completed his hat-trick immediately afterwards. Chris Cadden was the architect, with a surging run down the right flank and a cutback for Scott McDonald.
He miscued his shot and the ball landed kindly for Bowman. His effort was parried by Matthews but Moult was on hand to volley home.
Crawford atoned for his previous miss when his swerving shot from 15 yards evaded the outstretched hand of Samson but, by that stage, Accies were needing snookers.
Even so, had a free-kick from Crawford not rebounded from Samson’s left-hand post in the 40th minute – and had Georgios Sarris not missed from the rebound – then it might have turned out very differently.
That late surge provided some hope for Hamilton and Darian MacKinnon’s incisive pass left Eamonn Brophy with only Samson to beat but the ‘keeper spread himself to block his shot.
It was to prove a pivotal moment. Motherwell raced upfield and were awarded a penalty when Darren Lyon brought down Bowman. Moult, unsurprisingly, grabbed the ball from Bowman and proceeded to convert with aplomb.
Hamilton continued to persevere, though, and Crawford scored again, drilling Rakish Bingham’s cutback behind Samson from eight yards.
“The first 20 minutes killed us,” admitted manager Martin Canning. “We didn’t start the game at all and didn’t compete – and that was something we stressed we’d have to do before the game, regardless of our performance.
“In a derby game especially, you have to compete from minute one and we didn’t do that.”