Before their match with St Mirren yesterday, the Fir Park side would only have been able to see that elevated position from their tip-toes, yet they knew a win would allow them to sneak up behind such as Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Dundee United in the standings.
The Lanarkshire side had become muffled by poor results - both Celtic and Albion Rovers had subjected Motherwell to rather unseemly defeats recently - so that their aspirations for the campaign were harder to hear. They would arrive a point off second place at 4.45pm yesterday without fanfare, then, although Stuart McCall was content to trumpet his side's performance.
"We won last week and it was about nit and grit, there wasn't much quality," said the Motherwell manager. "But we know we have quality in the squad and we showed that here. It's about winning, but if you can win like that then it's all the more pleasing."
McCall would flash a smile towards Henri Anier after the Estonian put his side ahead after 31 minutes. The forward stepped on to a pass from Keith Lasley and at first feigned a shot before rifling the ball high past St Mirren goalkeeper Marian Kello.
A foul by Paul McGowan had offered the home side a chance to score already when the St Mirren forward flicked a boot at Lasley just outside the penalty area. It is perhaps not advisable to say much more than that without a lawyer present - McGowan this week admitted to a charge of kicking two police officers - but Lasley did appear to be tripped, m'lud. A poor cross from Lionel Ainsworth would let St Mirren off with no more than a slap on the wrist.
The on-loan Rotherham United winger would treat the Paisley side as repeat offenders after 42 minutes; further inefficient defending leading to a sterner punishment. Ainsworth traded passes with Lasley and then John Sutton on his way into the penalty area and rolled a shot past Kello.
It had been a simple finish, but one which will likely have caused Danny Lennon to furrow his brow at half-time as he tried to figure out how his side had fallen so far behind. "They worked harder than us and that hurts me to say that," said the St Mirren manager afterwards.
The first action of the match had been set with the visitors on the front foot, pressing both full-backs forward to provide further width. Sean Kelly drove forward from left-back and cut a pass for Conor Newton to scoop over the crossbar and another cross late on was poked wide of a post by Stephen Thompson.
A free-kick from Kenny McLean would also drop just wide late in the first half, the groan of frustration from that effort acting to sound the Paisley side's retreat.
Their misery was complete when a cross from Ian Vigurs was met by Anier, who thumped in Motherwell's third goal. The striker is on loan from Viking Stavanger until next month and tentative discussions have already begun to try and extend his stay until the end of the season. "It's not like it would be breaking the bank and that might just have twisted the club's arm a bit, that performance," added McCall.