Kilmarnock leapfrogged Motherwell into sixth place and this, their third successive victory, leaves them just three points behind fifth-placed Hearts with two games in hand.
In truth, it wasn’t always easy on the eye but this was a thoroughly professional performance from the Ayrshire side, who set out to stop their opponents from playing and achieved their aim.
“It was a good result,” said victorious manager Steve Clarke. “First half we probably shaded it. I thought we were decent. We had some good opportunities.
“Motherwell were stronger second half and we looked a little bit jaded.
“Towards the end we couldn’t get out but we dug in and showed great resilience.
“Everything just seems to be going our way at the moment, so while it’s going like that you just ride the crest of the wave and keep picking up the points. I just want to stay as far away from the bottom as possible.”
The hosts made by far the better start and came close twice in the opening 10 minutes, firstly when Kilmarnock goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald flapped at an Elliott Frear corner and Curtis Main saw his attempt from the rebound deflected behind and then when Frear picked out the inrushing Craig Tanner with a cutback, only for the midfielder to fire wide from a good position.
Kirk Broadfoot rode his luck when his attempted clearance from Chris Cadden’s cross struck the base of a post and Nadir Ciftci was incensed when referee Steven McLean refused to award him a penalty when the former Rangers and Scotland defender ploughed into him from behind.
In spite of their impressive sequence of results under Clarke, the visitors failed to threaten during the first half hour, although Tom Aldred took one for the home team when he bravely blocked a venomous half-volley from Eamonn Brophy with his midriff.
However, a moment of slackness from home striker Curtis Main led to Killie opening the scoring. The burly target man’s square pass across the middle of the park was intercepted by Stephen O’Donnell and the full-back strode on to drill a low shot inside Trevor Carson’s right-hand post from 25 yards.
Chris Cadden squandered a decent opportunity to restore parity before the interval. The midfielder has gone 10 months since his last league goal and, left with only MacDonald to beat, his angled drive not only failed to hit the target but went out for a throw-in.
They would not create a better opening. Kilmarnock were on the back foot in the second half, forced to repel relentless Motherwell attacks. Clarke’s team comfortably contained their opponents, though, while hitting on the break, when better choices from winger Jordan Jones might have given them with a two-goal cushion.
With the impressive Youssouf Mulumbu screening his back four and nipping trouble in the bud, MacDonald was rarely called on to do anything other than come for cross balls.
Home manager Stephen Robinson cut a frustrated figure afterwards, although he was far from disconsolate.
“We had large amounts of possession and we put 30 crosses into the box but somebody has to get on the end of them,” he said. “Our decision-making in the final third wasn’t good enough at times.
“Other than that, we were excellent – we rarely felt under any threat. But Killie have done very well; they’ve gone with two banks of four, defended with their lives and blocked everything, throwing their bodies on the ball and we just didn’t have the touch we needed to get the equaliser.”