GALLOWS humour was all the Inverness Caledonian Thistle supporters had left.
When it was announced, in the immediate aftermath of Motherwell's fifth goal, that Richie Foran was the man of the match, scornful laughter rang out around the Caledonian Stadium. Any anger had long since burned out, already expelled amid a match in which their hitherto unassailable side were summarily beaten.
Even manager Terry Butcher could not bring himself to rage against a group of players who had enabled him to enjoy 10 games without feeling the sting of defeat – that a 4-1 defeat by the same opponents at Fir Park at the beginning of September – even if they had spurned the opportunity to move in to third place in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League in front of a live television audience.
"I lost it a bit last week, punched a few doors and walls and sent a few tables flying, but there is no point this week because if I analysed it with them I would be in there for 48 hours," Butcher said. "They've been brilliant in the last 10 games so I didn't go mad. I just went in, poured a nice cup of coffee and sat down and said 'that just wasn't you today, for some reason'."
For all that Inverness were poor, Motherwell were excellent in earning a victory that moves them into fourth place, just five points off the summit. The players were hungrier, sharper and more decisive and Stuart McCall, the Fir Park side's manager, deserves credit, too, for not just quelling an Inverness attack that had scored 22 goals in their previous 10 matches but using that ambition against them.
Noting the lack of defensive cover that such a strategy inevitably begets, Motherwell isolated the home full-backs and shuttled the ball wide at every opportunity for Chris Humphrey and Jamie Murphy to drive forward unfettered. Chances inevitably followed and the visitors, despite their recent profligacy, continued their callous exploitation.
First Nicky Law spun and stood up a delightful delivery for Michael Higdon to nudge the ball past goalkeeper Antonio Reguero then, within four minutes, Humphrey scampered clear down the right and, although his cutback was headed out by Josh Meekings, Murphy was loitering ready to score a second goal inside the opening quarter.
"I think we must have got the kick-off time wrong; 12:45pm was just a bit too early," said Butcher, who at that point was careering around his technical area in an almighty lather, attempting to address matters by pulling Andrew Shinnie deeper to bolster the midfield. The switch stemmed the tide but only after another couple of moments of concern; Murphy lashing in an effort that kissed the top of thecrossbar and Reguero standing tall to thwart Humphrey.
It would not be the last time that the intervention of the Spanish goalkeeper would be required, but even his best efforts could not preserve the hosts' unbeaten run. Inverness might have managed to quell the threat from wide – albeit Motherwell's more conservative approach after the interval helped – but chances continued to fall for the Lanarkshire side on the break and, again, McCall's team were unusually clinical.
Henrik Ojamaa was wasteful when he broke clear – Reguero saving again – but Adam Cummins was far more decisive when a Tom Hateley free-kick dropped for him at the back post. The defender pulled the ball down and rasped an angled effort across the helpless goalkeeper to end any Highland hopes of a comeback.
Ojamaa, too, belatedly found his range, driving in Law's cutback after 72 minutes to score his first of the campaign. "We got what we deserved and that's not always been the case recently," said McCall. "The trick is not to get too high today and not too despondent when you lose because there is nothing in this league. There are a lot of good sides but on our day we are as good as anyone."
Yet while Motherwell were rampant, Inverness were strangely subdued. Any openings tended to be from distance; Gavin Morrison, Billy McKay and Owain Tudur Jones all scudded in efforts with varying degrees of accuracy but the hosts struggled to cleave open the Fir Back defence. The one occasion when they did so, just after the interval, Inverness were rewarded. David Raven shaped a ball into the six-yard box and, although Richie Foran was tightly marshalled, he was able to control adroitly and flick a cute finish away from Darren Randolph.
That had hauled the hosts back in to the match at 2-1 but Cummins' goal extinguished any thoughts of a revival before they had even truly taken hold and Inverness proceeded to play out the game with a whimper. Aaron Doran rattled the bar and Andrew Shinnie had an attempt tipped over by Randolph but instead it was Motherwell who found the net for a final time, Omar Daley's tame shot squirming through Reguero's arms.
"They must have had a miraculous cure because everyone who was ill or weren't playing well played fantastically," Butcher said ruefully of a Motherwell side supposedly so depleted they had to cancel training sessions last week. "We'll take a look at the dvd but not for long because it will be going in the bin. When everyone is that poor I think you just have to look at it as a harsh lesson and move on."
Scorers. Inverness – Foran (47); Motherwell – Higdon (17), Murphy (21), Cummins (52), Ojamaa (72), Daley (89)