THERE is only so long you can keep performing miracles when, year after year, your brightest talent moves on and has to be replaced with youth-team players and arrivals from the darkest corners of the bargain basement.
Stuart McCall has without question worked wonders at Motherwell in recent seasons but it is an era looking very much at an end.
The Fir Park side, in their manager's own words, were rotten yesterday. They barely laid a glove on an Inverness Caledonian Thistle side that were simply sharper, better organised and more incisive throughout.
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Greg Tansey and substitute Aaron Doran scored the goals on an afternoon that will do nothing other than strengthen Inverness's confidence ahead of next weekend's visit of Celtic.
Seven points and three clean sheets are fairly convincing proof that this is a team feeling good about itself.
Stability is everything for John Hughes' side. Their four regular defenders know each other inside out and they are well protected by Tansey and Ross Draper. They will be a hard team to break down this season.
Motherwell, meanwhile, have suffered from too many patch-up jobs. Everyone knows they barely have two pennies to rub together and are forever vulnerable in the market. There is no way McCall can buy his way out of this. He has to work with what he has and although the likes of Stevie Hammell and Simon Ramsden missed this match through injury it is a task that might be above even him.
On the basis of this display, top six would be a major result.
"We were rotten, absolutely rotten," a candid McCall conceded. "They were very good but we couldn't do basic stuff such as pass from A to B.
"We were really poor in all departments and I don't think we mustered an attempt at goal. Big John Sutton had nothing to feed off. We created nothing from wide areas while they moved the ball better all over the park.
"I said at half-time that it could only get better because we were woeful on the ball in the first half. I don't think we were much better in the second. That was one of the poorest performances we have had here.
"I am the manager and take responsibility for that. With the character of the players we have, I am confident we will improve, but we need to do it quickly. A number of individuals are nowhere near the level they were at last season."
Inverness did enjoy a fortunate escape in the early stages. Dean Brill was forced out of his goal to try to deal with a dreadful backpass from Graeme Shinnie, and Lionel Ainsworth produced a moment of great vision to chip the goalkeeper from a position wide on the right. There is no question his effort was dipping below the crossbar, but Gary Warren had read the danger, backtracking to head off the line.
From that point onwards, though, there was only ever going to be one winner. Midway through the first half Tansey's low shot from distance was saved by Dan Twardzik. The ball made its way out to David Raven on the right and his cross was touched just wide by Billy McKay.
Marley Watkins was next to ask questions of Twardzik with a powerful drive parried at the near post. The one-time Chelsea trainee then showed great presence of mind to cut the rebound back to Ryan Christie and it took a desperate block from David Ferguson, making his first start in claret and amber at left-back, to keep the scoreline blank.
Inverness, though, got their due reward three minutes from the interval. Watkins ghosted in from the right and moved the ball to Tansey about 22 yards out. He created space for himself and released a crisp, right-footed drive that whizzed into the bottom right-hand corner.
Shinnie fired just wide early in the second half after a backheel from Christie and Doran finally put the three points firmly under lock and key in the 89th minute. Craig Reid allowed the Irishman too much space out left and he cut inside before releasing a beautiful, curling effort that evaded Twardzik's despairing dive to find the far corner.
Scotland manager Gordon Strachan watched the match from a directors' box that also played host to former Labour Party spin doctor Alistair Campbell.
Inverness manager Hughes believes Strachan will have been impressed by a number of players ahead of next month's European Championship qualifier against Germany.
"I know Gordon and I mentioned Graeme Shinnie through the press last year," Hughes said. "It was evident again that he is a really good footballer. We also saw the qualities of Ryan Christie He's just turned 19, but he has been well educated."