STUART McCALL will not have known whether to laugh or cry.
Less than a week before the transfer window opens, and with the Motherwell manager admitting he may have to lose a player to help balance the books, his team produced the sort of eye-catching performance that will have had scouts and managers around the country sitting up and taking notice.
The scoreline was perhaps harsh on an Aberdeen side that contributed substantially to an entertaining contest, in the first half especially, but this turned out to be an afternoon when several of Motherwell's coveted players enhanced their reputations as the Fir Park side narrowed the gap on second-placed Inverness Caledonian Thistle to a solitary goal.
No star shone brighter than Jamie Murphy – architect of Motherwell's first goal and scorer of their second and third – who would have struggled to have drawn more attention to himself had he played with a giant flashing neon sign on his back.
Only a second-half penalty miss blotted his copybook, the Aberdeen goalkeeper Jamie Langfield denying Murphy a hat trick after Clark Robertson bundled over Henrik Ojamaa. The Estonian was another who had an impressive afternoon and left the field to a standing ovation.
Murphy turned down a move to Blackpool earlier this year and the chances are he will be in demand again early in 2013. On this evidence, Ojamaa and Nicky Law will not be short of attention either. "I think we'll lose one in January but if there were any scouts at the game they probably went away with five or six names on a piece of paper," McCall said. "There were a lot of big performances from a lot of players.
"It's a double-edged sword when they do well, but I'm fortunate to have them and be working with them, and when they play like that they're a joy. Sometimes you can't do anything about what the future holds, you've just got to enjoy it."
On an afternoon that produced five goals, the biggest surprise was that none of them came from Niall McGinn. Such has been the Northern Irishman's scoring form this season that it was a genuine surprise to see him sclaff an early chance past the post. It was a miss Aberdeen would come to regret.
By half-time, they were 3-1 down and they never really recovered. It is now four-and-a-half years since they last won a league match at Fir Park and such was their defensive frailty here that record never really looked like being broken.
"To lose by that margin is unacceptable because we have a bit of pride about us," said Craig Brown, the Aberdeen manager. "We don't want to see that kind of scoreline. My Christmas message is we must have humility after that performance and we must have determination to atone for it."
Minutes after McGinn's miss and then a Law shot that hit the crossbar, Murphy was the creator when Motherwell went in front after nine minutes. McCall had rested Chris Humphrey and rejigged his formation and, whether through accident or design, the change paid off.
Murphy sent in an enticing ball from the left and there at the back post – in Humphrey's position – was converted right wing-back Tom Hateley to head his team in front.
The other two Motherwell goals in the first half, Murphy claimed for himself. His first came after 31 minutes, the forward gliding along the periphery of the Aberdeen penalty box before thudding in a low right-foot shot.
His second followed on the stroke of half-time and effectively sealed the victory. Zaine Francis-Angol played him in with an adroit pass and Murphy showed great composure to finish past Langfield.
The goal was a wounding blow to an Aberdeen side who had lifted themselves off the canvas at 2-0 down, narrowed the deficit with a fine Jonny Hayes effort after 34 minutes, and looked to have been pushing for an equaliser. They briefly threatened early in the second half but a fourth Motherwell goal after 55 minutes ended their resistance for good.
Ojamaa was the provider, getting the better of Joe Shaughnessy before crossing for Michael Higdon who belted a shot past Langfield via the inside of the crossbar. That was Shaughnessy's last involvement in the game –Russell Anderson's too – but Brown's changes came too late, the damage already done. It could have been worse for Aberdeen had Murphy shown greater efficiency from 12 yards although McCall may not have been overly disappointed at seeing his player finally showing he has some flaws, as clubs wait to try to entice him – and others – away from Fir Park.
"Hateley was going to step up but Murph had two goals so he took it," McCall said. "But nobody can be disappointed today with the result and the manner in which we got it."