Motherwell’s ambitions of a top-six finish received a significant boost with this comprehensive victory which hoisted them above St Johnstone into seventh position, leaving them just two points behind Hibernian, whom they face at Easter Road on Saturday.
They will go into that meeting having won seven and drawn one of their last nine Premiership fixtures, a remarkable turnaround for a side which had been mired in the relegation zone prior to Christmas.
“I thought some of our play was excellent,” said manager Stephen Robinson. “It was actually quite difficult conditions with the way the wind was swirling about but we dictated play and were very good.
“Gboly Ariyibi was outstanding today, as were our midfield three, so we thoroughly deserved the victory. Human nature took over in the second half; no matter how hard I was shouting at them to press and press the players probably knew the game was already won.”
For Hamilton, though, that shock win at Aberdeen the previous weekend was clearly a blip and this wretched display the norm. They remain three points above Dundee, who currently occupy the play-off position, but on this evidence there is no guarantee that they will retain their top-tier status for a sixth successive season.
Any fears that this may turn out to be one of those tense, sterile derbies were allayed inside the opening two minutes when the home side took the lead. Curtis Main won an aerial duel to release Ariyibi on the left flank and, while the his low cross was not struck cleanly by David Turnbull, the midfielder’s effort from six yards bobbled above the diving Gary Woods and into the net.
Ariyibi then sprinted between Ziggy Gordon and Darian MacKinnon to fire in a shot which was saved by Woods before he played a key role in ‘Well’s second goal.
He once again left MacKinnon for dead and this time, as he burst past Alex Gogic, the latter brought him down. Andrew Dallas has been notorious this season for wrongly awarding penalties but he called this one correctly and Turnbull sent Woods the wrong way from the resulting award.
Right-winger Jake Hastie, who is wanted by Rangers, cut inside on the half-hour but his stinging shot from 20 yards was diverted to safety by Woods at full stretch.
The 19-year-old did get on the scoresheet eight minutes from the interval, however, when he was on hand six yards out to drill home a wayward shot from Turnbull, who spurned the opportunity to complete his first senior hat-trick when he headed Liam Grimshaw’s cross over from point-blank range on the stroke of half-time.
Defensively ragged and weak in midfield, Accies manager Brian Rice attempted to remedy the situation by replacing Gogic with James Keatings and the former Hearts and Hibs striker at least had a shot of note immediately after the restart although, tellingly, he failed to hit the target and he was cautioned shortly afterwards.
To say that Rice was frustrated with his team’s display would be to understate the case.
“We shot ourselves in the foot,” he said. “It was a derby and I asked them to start on the front foot, win their tackles and headers and stop the crosses because we know how Motherwell play.
“However, that went out the window in the first 30 minutes. We didn’t have enough spirit in that period. I told them at half-time that they had beaten themselves and that they had to go out and show the fans they deserved to wear the shirt. Certain players were asked to do jobs and they weren’t up to it.”