After five matches without a win at Fir Park, and just one all season, Stuart McCall's side were finally able to emerge into the Lanarkshire evening with a spring in their step last night after seizing a victory that moves them up to third in the SPL.
But how they had to sweat for it. Having trailed 1-0, then led 2-1, the hosts were hanging on at the end, none more so than when goalkeeper Lee Hollis had to make a stunning reflex stop to prevent Scott Boyd's header earning Ross County a draw. "They had all their big boys up in the box and it would have been cruel," said a relieved McCall. "We really needed that win, too."
The most common explanation for Motherwell's travails at home centres on the compact nature of the Fir Park pitch and its incompatibility with their expansive, counterattacking style. Yesterday, though, it was their profligacy that was to blame rather than an inability to cleave open a stuffy defence. Five clear opportunities were created in the opening half-hour alone: Chris Humphrey lashed over; Keith Lasley's flick from a Tom Hateley corner was instinctively saved by Mark Brown; Michael Hidgon was denied by an astute Richard Brittain intervention after splendid work from Lasley; and Jamie Murphy swiped over from 14 yards. By that point, though, Higdon had finally capitalised on the hosts' dominance by nudging in a header from Humphrey's tempting cross.
That goal, however, only restored parity as County, conversely, had scored with their first real sortie upfield. The Dingwall side had been content to sit deep and frustrate, denying their hosts space and hitting on the break. Given Derek Adams' side have won just once away all season and were without a victory in five games, it appeared a prudent approach when Rocco Quinn's unlikely 17th-minute opener gave them something to defend. Little seemed on when the midfielder took possession but he was allowed to advance before unleashing an astonishing drive that wobbled viciously away from Hollis and ripped in to the net.
Motherwell moved ahead just two minutes after the interval. Perhaps discomfited by the withdrawal of Mihael Kovacevic and the subsequent defensive reshuffle, County allowed Nicky Law to scamper clear down the left, advance in to the area and slide the ball under an exposed Brown from an acute angle.
At that point, the expectation was that Motherwell would go on to record a rare home triumph but, for some reason, they simply stopped playing. County, sensing as much, took advantage. With the hosts encamped around their own area, Quinn jabbed a shot against a clutch of defenders and was well placed when the ball broke out, spearing in a drive that ricocheted against another home player to creep past Hollis.
"Sure, we created openings but we gave the win to them," said a despondent Adams. "We didn't defend well enough and were a wee bit naive."
Just seven minute were left when Murphy wriggled in to space on the right and Lasley was on hand to sweep a composed finish away from Brown. "A bad, bad goal," said Adams, shaking his head and wondering what might have been.