Motherwell 4 Inverness CT 1
Their midweek jaunt to Spain brought only confirmation that their stay ambitions in the Europa League would prove similarly flitting, a spirited performance against Levante heralding an improvement on the first leg. They lost only 1-0 on Thursday.
If that had perhaps left the Lanarkshire side in need of some home comforts then their fourth consecutive win over Inverness Caledonian Thistle likely did the trick. A callow squad had been exposed by a more engaging, if hardly frightening, Levante side over two legs but they can take succour from the fact that they are still good enough to mix it in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League. This win has placed them at the top albeit having played a game more than Celtic.
"I'm happy with the squad I've got," said Stuart McCall, the Motherwell manager. "I think there's a good balance and the guys work well together. It's nice to go into [the international] break on the back of a win."
The most notable performance came from Michael Higdon. Given the hulking striker regularly ploughs a lone furrow for Motherwell he is admittedly hard to miss, but there were certainly no excuses yesterday after he recorded a hat trick against Inverness. The Fir Park side were already ahead when the Englishman slammed in his first goal of the afternoon, arriving at pace to meet Chris Humphrey's cross in the penalty area.
Only 12 minutes had elapsed and Higdon seemed intent on making the most of the bright start. There is a tendency to treat him as a typically brutish target man but Higdon did his best to puncture that perception when he attempted a chip from the edge of the penalty area midway through the first half which drifted over the crossbar and later sending a low drive against the side netting.
Higdon eventually found his way back on to the scoresheet after 72 minutes; the striker intercepting an errant back pass before directing a shot in off the base of the left-hand post. The fervour had only just died down when he completed his hat trick five minutes later when he lashed the ball high into the net after impressive work by substitute Henrik Ojamaa down the right wing. That put Motherwell 4-1 up with 15 minutes left to go but the match had been over for some time.
"It's been the perfect day for me," said Higdon. "I'm a striker and I need to score goals to keep the fans happy, so I'm delighted to get a hat trick. I was really pleased with my performance. It's great to be top of the league. In some ways, it eases the pain of the Levante result. I don't think we could ask for much more.
"A lot of credit also has to go to the young guys. I think every single one of them has grasped the opportunity and really excelled."
Inverness' cause had been complicated after just 11 minutes when Tom Hateley's wicked corner spun through the hands of goalkeeper Ryan Esson and into the net but that came to provide a fitting vignette for the Highlanders' afternoon. The visitors posed questions of Darren Randolph, the Motherwell goalkeeper – Ross Draper had a shot tipped round a post after only two minutes – but were unable to benefit from the flurry of chances they created.
David Raven also had an effort blocked and Randolph huckled further efforts from Aaron Doran and Owain Tudur Jones wide of his goal. Yet Inverness had scored in each of their league outings this season and were not to be denied here; Richie Foran – restored to the starting XI following suspension – scudding a header beyond Randolph after 27 minutes. That made it 2-1 but that was as close as Inverness would come to rescuing a point.
They were unable to cut the deficit for a second time late on when they were awarded a penalty kick, Foran going down in the box having been fouled by Jonathan Page. Andrew Shinnie's spot-kick was saved expertly by Randolph.
"It's clear that conceding eight goals in our last two league games isn't good enough," said Terry Butcher, the Inverness manager, whose side are just a point above St Johnstone at the foot of the league table after five matches. "We give them away so cheaply, and it's a real cause for concern."
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