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Motherwell 2 Inverness CT 1:Pimm's and willow at stake on 'Holiday Sunday'

HARD on the heels of 'Survival Saturday', there is now the spectacle of 'Second-Place Sunday' - or maybe even 'Summer Holiday Sunday' - to look forward to.

John Sutton wheels away to celebrate scoring for Motherwell. Picture: SNS
John Sutton wheels away to celebrate scoring for Motherwell. Picture: SNS

Whatever it is that Motherwell's players regard as their primary incentive on the journey to Aberdeen for the final game of the season, it is to the benefit of the game as a whole that the closing weekend of the SPFL Premiership will bring two days containing matches that mean something.

Sure, the stakes at Pittodrie will be nowhere near as high as those at Easter Road 24 hours earlier, but let's take the option of looking on the bright side for once. A John Sutton penalty and an own goal by Gary Warren, which proved enough to earn victory despite a second-half reply from Graeme Shinnie and far too many shaky moments for comfort, have ensured that Stuart McCall's men will finish runners-up to Celtic should they emerge from the Granite City victorious.

There is the small matter that coming second would afford the current squad an extra fortnight of sunning themselves on the beach before returning to the slog of pre-season. The first round of Europa League qualifying ties begins, believe it or not, on July 3, when all good men should be filling their time with those sweet summertime pursuits of a well-prepared Pimm's, the thwack of leather-on-willow and a spot of late night World Cup on the telly.

At least the team that comes second and will enter the competition at the next stage shall be spared the rigours of competitive action until July 17.

Over and above all that, there is £240,000 of a difference in the prize money between second and third. Aberdeen would surely find something worthwhile to do with such a haul, but it would be particularly welcome at Fir Park.

"That money could make a huge difference and you can also come back later for pre-season," said McCall, the Motherwell manager. "We know what is at stake. I will have to check my contract to see if I get a bonus. Seriously, I am so proud of my players. It is beyond what we could have dreamt of. We got a bit of luck at the end against Inverness and I think we have merited that over the season."

Motherwell certainly started well last night and were gifted the lead by visiting midfielder Ross Draper as early as the fourth minute. One can only guess that he was attempting to shepherd the ball out of play at the byeline when being dispossessed by Sutton. The striker nudged the ball inside, though, and was always going to go down when a panic-stricken Draper instinctively stuck out a leg and gave referee Willie Collum little option but to point to the spot.

The big centre-forward did enough to send goalkeeper Dean Brill the wrong way and notch up his 24th goal of the campaign.

Iain Vigurs then sent a corner kick into the Inverness area from the right. Sutton missed the ball completely after producing a most graceful leap, but Warren had decided on putting the ball wide with a diving header and somehow contrived to direct it into his own net.

Motherwell, though, failed to turn up for the second period and were lucky to get away with it in the end. Shinnie made for a nerve-jangling conclusion to the evening with a strange goal. His shot from 20 yards out contained no real venom, but it left Hollis wrongfooted after taking a deflection and bobbled into the net to the keeper's left. From that point onwards, it was an exercise in hanging on by the fingernails.

Only the Good Lord knows how a Billy McKay effort deep into stoppage-time failed to cross the goal-line after hitting off the inside of the post.

"It actually brought a smile to my face when we hit the post," said John Hughes, the Inverness manager. "We'd put so much in, conceded two poor goals and gave ourselves a mountain to climb."

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