Not only did it lift them seven points clear of basement club St Mirren but, with Ross County claiming all three points at Tannadice, it also kept alive their hopes of climbing out of the play-off position they currently occupy.
It was supposed to be a coronation for new Kilmarnock manager Gary Locke but his players clearly had not read the script and they fell away after a bright start.
Josh Magennis recorded the first effort on target in the 13th minute, a venomous drive which George Long could only parry, but the hosts took a deserved lead just ten minutes later.
It was a moment to remember for 17-year-old central defender David Syme, who nodded home his first senior goal in his first start.
However, it was one to forget for Long, who ought to have easily claimed Paul Cairney’s free kick, but completely missed his punch, leaving the teenager with a free header.
Yet as soon as former Scotland midfielder Stephen Pearson notched his first goal for Motherwell since February, 2004, the alarm bells were ringing at Rugby Park.
His experience was evident in his perfectly-timed run to get on the end of Lionel Ainsworth’s driven cross and he opened up his body to deflect it past Craig Samson.
It rather sums up his side’s display that the goalkeeper was by far their best performer. Time and again during the second period he defied the opposition, making superlative saves to deny Scott McDonald, Keith Lasley and Ainsworth.
The pressure was incessant, however, and something had to give. Fittingly, it was the unpredictable Lee Erwin who claimed the winner. He had been Motherwell’s most impressive player here and he underlined that by leaving Syme and Lee Ashcroft for dead before firing a low shot behind Samson from 15 yards.
Visiting manager Ian Baraclough greeted the final whistle with some Ronny Deila fist pumping.
“It means the world – it means absolutely everything. We’ve not had a great deal to celebrate this season and our fans played their part yet again today by turning out in numbers,” he said.
“They were noisy and backed the team and we’ve responded. And, of course, I enjoy celebrating!
“We’ve now taken ten points out of the last 15 and if you’re taking two points out of every three then you’re on the up, aren’t you?
“Forget what’s gone on before. It’s all about these last seven games now and making sure we keep picking up those points.”
Baraclough finally seems to have found the right formula at Fir Park and he is confident the Steelmen will survive.
“We’re dragging other teams in as well. There are seven games still to play and, after today, we’re three points better off against St Mirren.
“There is now a seven-point gap and we play them on Tuesday, which is a massive game for both clubs. However, until it’s mathematically impossible for teams to catch us, we won’t be ruling anyone out.
“Others can get dragged in quite easily if we keep picking up three points. We’ll get ourselves out of it.
“But we’ve come out of a six or seven-game streak where we didn’t pick up a point so we take nothing for granted.
“We need to work as hard on Tuesday as we did today and then move on to next Saturday.”
For his part, Locke accepted the defeat with dignity. “You’ve got to give credit to Motherwell,” he said.
“I think the top six is going to be really difficult now. We need to make sure we bounce back next week.”
Kilmarnock: Samson; Barbour, Ashcroft, Syme, Westlake; Johnston (Eremenko 80), O’Hara, Cairney (Kiltie 80), Obadeyi; Magennis, Miller (Eccleston 68). Subs: Brennan, McKenzie, Clingan, Smith.
Motherwell: Long; Law, Laing, McManus, Straker; Ainsworth (Carswell 82), Lasley, Grant (Sutton 57), Pearson; Erwin (Ramsden 90), MacDonald. Subs: Twardzik, Kerr, N Thomas, D Thomas.
Referee: E Anderson. Attendance: 4,532.
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