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Motherwell 2 Ross County 1: Home side on song for Europe

MOTHERWELL are making a useful habit of this.

John Sutton scores for Motherwell Photograph: SportPix
John Sutton scores for Motherwell Photograph: SportPix

For the second time in a week Stuart McCall's side were not at their best and still managed to emerge victorious. They will surely settle for that in every game between now and the end of the season.

The win ensures they remain in third place in the SPFL Premiership table, tucked in behind Aberdeen on goal difference and in line to deliver European football to Fir Park for the sixth time in seven seasons.

They relied on two old heads to help them over the line yesterday, James McFadden and John Sutton both benefiting from spilled shots early in the second half to score from close range.

That seemed to provide the platform for Motherwell to coast comfortably through to full-time but a late, unexpected Ross County revival - sparked by a volley from Yann Songo'o - made it more nervy than it ought to have been.

His side's failure to take their first-half chances was McCall's main gripe afterwards but he was not overly critical given his players had once again delivered. "The one thing we've been in the last couple of months is clinical, but unfortunately today we weren't," said the manager. "If we had been, the game would have been put to bed by half-time. But overall I was pleased with a lot of the play. It was a good three points."

There was frustration on the part of County manager Derek Adams that his team had not put Motherwell under more pressure earlier in the game.

"We left it a wee bit too late," he said. "We got the goal with eight minutes to go and that didn't give us enough time to get back into the game. A point would probably have been fair in my eyes."

It was no surprise that McFadden claimed the first goal of the match as the forward, playing just off Sutton, had looked the player most likely to score up until that point.

The former Scotland international had headed a Craig Reid cross wide from a difficult position, saw an attempted lofted effort kept out by Mark Brown, and then had another shot from a Steven Hammell cross repelled by the goalkeeper.

McFadden's strike early in the second half, though, showed his instincts have not diminished with age, the 30 year-old reacting quickest to belt a shot past Brown after he could only parry Iain Vigurs' stinging drive.

Remarkably, Motherwell's second goal was almost identical to their first. This time it was substitute Craig Moore - on for McFadden - whose long-range effort Brown couldn't hold, allowing Sutton to steer in the rebound from a matter of yards. There wasn't a County defender near either McFadden or Sutton at either goal but Adams felt the blame lay elsewhere.

"Mark Brown has taken full responsibility for the two goals, it's his fault," he said. "It's very difficult [for defenders] when the ball's palmed into the middle of the area. I wouldn't blame them."

For a team fighting for their Premiership lives, County offered little in the way of an attacking threat until late in the game.

They did, however, have one great chance in the first half with the game still scoreless, after a long ball from Brown skidded off the head of Stephen McManus to Jordan Slew. His drive was powerful but lacked accuracy, smacking into the advertising boards behind Gunnar Nielsen's goal rather than into the net.

County were two down and up against it by the time they created another opportunity. It fell to Richard Brittain, the captain dribbling his way into the box before shooting against the far post. But still the visitors came, their efforts belatedly rewarded with a goal after 82 minutes. It was simply constructed, with Graham Carey's corner to the near post side-footed past Nielsen by Songo'o. "Our Achilles heel again, losing a goal from a corner," sighed McCall.

Suddenly County looked a side revitalised as Motherwell wobbled for the first time. Songo'o had another chance - this time it went high and wide - and Brittain had an effort blocked. Motherwell, though, held on for another precious win.

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