GRAHAM ALEXANDER hailed the influence of his centre-forward Tony Watt after the 27-year-old’s moment of magic settled a cagey encounter at Fir Park.

The well-travelled striker notched his eighth Premiership goal of the campaign with a delightful curling effort from 25 yards as the Lanarkshire club moved into fifth and cut the gap with their opponents Dundee United to a single point.

The match was played in a near-torrential downpour, prompting Alexander to admit that he was pleased to get the victory on a night where industry was always going to trump guile.

“It was a fantastic finish,” the former Salford City manager said of Watt’s goal.

“He went through a spell at the start of the season where he was scoring in succession and he’s suffered a wee dry spell, but his play for the team has been excellent.

“We deserved to win. It would have been nice to get that other goal to give us a bit of a cushion because it got a bit nervy towards the end but it would have been unjust if we didn’t win.”

It soon became apparent that the two sets of players were in for a long, physical slog. Conditions overhead weren’t exactly conducive to free-flowing football and the contest quickly took on an attritional, nip-and-tuck nature.

However, there was no doubt that the hosts were clearly determined to seize the early initiative. Tony Watt used his body well to win a free-kick around 30 yards from goal and Sean Goss shrewdly dinked the resulting set-piece beyond the United backline; Ricky Lamie did well to evade Charlie Mulgrew initially, but his header lacked the sufficient power or direction to seriously test Benjamin Siegrist.

If that initial effort served as warning, it was not heeded as Motherwell took the lead with barely 10 minutes on the clock. Kaiyne Woolery – who had an excellent evening – drove menacingly through the middle before shifting the ball out left to Watt, who curled a beautifully-struck shot into the far corner with a sublime first-time hit.

Motherwell’s tails were up now as they bombarded the United goal and looked to build on their advantage. The visitors, seemingly determined to play out from the back and very reluctant to go long, barely ventured outside of their own half in any meaningful sense as the ‘Well forwards harried them relentlessly.

Slowly, though, United began to find their feet. A slip from centre-half Sondre Solholm Johansen offered some encouragement, as did a pot-shot from Declan Glass, as the belief among the away contingent grew. But for all their efforts, no breakthrough was forthcoming.

At the other end, Callum Slattery should have done a lot better when he met Kevin van Veen’s cross into the box unopposed but the midfielder could only skew his header comfortably over the bar as Alexander’s men went into the break with a single-goal advantage.

The downpour continued throughout the interval but the home side’s spirits would not be dampened as the came back out for the second half. They should have been ahead minutes after the restart when Van Veen’s clever one-two with Woolery fell invitingly to the Dutch striker’s feet, only for the 30-year-old to scoop his effort on the turn over from eight yards.

The pressure continued to build. Watt showed great strength to spin away from his marker and burst down the right, cutting the ball back to Slattery as the latter’s shot was blocked. A superb drilled cross from United right-back Kieran Freeman, however – one that failed to connect with anyone as it sped across the edge of the six-yard box – provided a timely reminder that the game remained a contest.

With the clock approaching full-time, Van Veen really should have sealed the win for his side after latching onto a neat ball forward but conspired to screw his shot wide of the near post.

It wouldn’t matter in the end as Motherwell held on to secure the three points – despite Barry Maguire’s dismissal minutes from the end for the hosts – leaving Tam Courts frustrated.

“It was very disappointing,” said the Dundee United head coach. “Pre-deluge, we started on the back foot and were very tentative.

“We allowed Motherwell to take a foothold in the game. It was almost like we were waiting on Motherwell to capitalise on our slow start and get the goal – which they eventually did – and that forced us into making tactical alterations.

“In the second half, because of the conditions, it became a bit of a lottery. We never got the chance to play the type of football that we’ve become accustomed to.”