For Hearts, the outlook took a chilling turn for the worse.
The Tynecastle side were on the back foot for most of their 2-1 defeat at Fir Park, despite taking a surprise lead after 62 minutes through Ryan Stevenson. But their resistance against the relentless force of Motherwell's attack eventually crumbled in spectacular fashion as their hosts fiercely wrestled this match from Hearts' grasp.
Meantime, their nearest rivals in the lower reaches of the table, each collected three points, Kilmarnock clawing their way to their first win of the season while St Mirren claimed their second in as many games in a Paisley epic.
That leaves Hearts, penalised for going into administration, 13 points behind the Rugby Park outfit after 10 matches and looking less and less likely to escape relegation.
For all their ability to break forward at pace - which resulted in their goal - their inexperience of Gary Locke's young team against a street-smart Motherwell highlighted the scale of the challenge they face. "It's a hard one, although I seem to be saying the same things every week," said Hearts manager Locke, whose side last won a league game on August 24.
"This was always going to be difficult for us. It's disappointing that we lost and of course St Mirren and Kilmarnock both won, so it's been a bad day. But we can't feel sorry for ourselves, we need to try to take the positives."
While the view from Tynecastle looks ever more bleak as Locke turns his attention to a crucial trip to Kilmarnock on Saturday, the sun continues to shine brightly on Stuart McCall's Motherwell, who joined Inverness Caledonian Thistle on 19 points in joint second place behind Celtic.
The Lanarkshire club look as if they are capable of matching their own high standards of last season, with the fluidity of their midfield leaving their inexperienced counterparts toiling in their wake.
Iain Vigurs is beginning to look every inch the player who proved so influential for Ross County, with his wicked dead-ball delivery complementing his awareness and quick feet.
Yet the star of this compelling contest was undoubtedly Craig Moore, making his league debut. While the 19-year-old may be an unknown quantity to most outwith Fir Park, this young striker's progress was tracked closely by the Motherwell coaching staff as he progressed impressively through the ranks.
Yesterday he showed why. Replacing Zaine-Francis Angol after 68 minutes, it took just 10 seconds for Moore to trot from the touchline to the edge of the box, steady himself, and slam a stunning volley beyond Jamie MacDonald and into the net off the underside of the bar.
"I think it was all down to my managerial genius," joked McCall. "Craig has deserved his chance. He went out last season [on loan to Cowdenbeath] and scored seven goals. He's had to bide his time but he has a fantastic appetite and great attitude.
"I'm delighted his first touch in league football ended up in the back of the net. Let's hope he's fit for the youth cup tie up at Montrose tomorrow."
Moore's stunning intervention altered the whole complexion of the match as the hosts scrambled for a way back into it after being jolted by Stevenson's goal. If home goalkeeper Gunnar Neilsen's first involvement in the game came with a superb double stop just before the break to deny Jamie Walker and David Smith from point-blank range, his second was to pick the ball out of the net.With the hosts caught upfield, Hearts substitute Scott Robinson was allowed to feed the ball to Stevenson, who carried the ball into the box, twisted and turned, then struck a low shot which was deflected into the net at the near post.
Then enter Moore stage left seven minutes later. While Hearts could do little about the first goal, Locke had cause to be less than enamoured with the his defending for Motherwell's second seven minutes from time as Vigurs swung in a wicked dipping corner kick and centre-half Shaun Hutchinson steered a free header powerfully into the net.