MARK McGHEE, the Motherwell manager, confessed to feelings of nausea at watching Scotland’s group rivals, the Republic of Ireland, celebrate qualification to France 2016 last week.
The Scotland assistant manager could hardly have found the scenes in Dingwall yesterday much more palatable.
Motherwell have troubles to overcome, to be sure, as they try to arrest poor results after slumping to second bottom in the table after a thoroughly comprehensive beating. Defeat left McGhee with one win from his opening five matches in charge, while County – impressive in their spirited endeavour and finishing – broke a run of three league defeats. The Motherwell manager was nothing if not honest in his appraisal afterwards.
“I don’t think we need any warning. You can think no other way than we are in a dogfight, until we’re out of it,” McGhee said.
“There’s no illusions about the work we’ve got to do. We’ll just continue to do that. Hopefully next week we’ll have those experienced three back – Keith Lasley, Mick McManus and Stevie Hammell – and it will bring an improvement.
“When you don’t take a chance you’re going to be up against it away from home, against a team as enthusiastic, informed, confident and energetic as County are.”
It was a seventh home win out of ten this season for Jim McIntyre’s men as they re-asserted their top-six credentials after recent stutters.
Just 180 Well supporters braved the trip and all supporter buses were cancelled on a wintry day that would have chilled them in more ways than one.
County had lost influential Michael Gardyne to an ankle injury from the team beaten by Celtic before the international break, prompting winger Jonathan Franks to be recalled on the right flank.
Motherwell, among others, were missing the steel of Stephen McManus in the heart of defence after the ex-Celt’s late red card in the defeat at Inverness.
Despite those absentees, Well arguably had slightly the better of the first 20 minutes, before the hosts struck. County first had the ball in the net through Liam Boyce after 21 minutes but the off-side flag was already raised. However, the opener came barely a minute later, and in spectacular fashion.
Young Tony Dingwall created the initial danger, driving inside from the left with determination and seeing a strike blocked by a Well body. As the ball rolled left, Martin Woods picked out Craig Curran in the penalty area and the Liverpudlian frontman controlled superbly with back to goal and smashed a 12-yard shot high past Connor Ripley.
The goal infused County’s play with confidence and the hosts began to move the ball much more convincingly. County were heading to victory after the crucial second materialised in 69 minutes.
Boyce did well to keep the ball in at the right-side touchline. Woods then fed Dingwall outside the box and the scorer against Celtic beat a couple of challenges and rounded the keeper to calmly slot home. County weren’t really troubled in the remainder of the match until Liam Grimshaw’s determination took him through for a strike parried by keeper Stevie Woods.
Boyce made it 3-0 late on in added time from the penalty spot.
McIntyre, frustrated of late by a failure to take a rich supply of chances during recent setbacks, was effusive in his praise of the front two, Boyce and Curran.
“They’re a handful. We feel they can give most defences trouble and it is great to see both get on the score-sheet,” McIntyre said. “For me what set up the victory today was the doggedness. We really did put in a shift, pressurise them high up the park and didn’t give them a minute to settle. That was key for me.
“The midfield did well but it starts with your front two. They have to set the tone for the match and make sure the opposition aren’t getting comfortable possession to drop balls into their strikers.
“It’s a real team effort.”