This turned out to be another night to forget for rock-bottom Ross County, as another opportunity to claw themselves off the foot of the table passed them by.
The Staggies looked to be in a relatively comfortable position and had defended solidly, however it all unravelled with seconds to spare before half-time when debutant John Souttar – signed on the day of the game – bulleted a header into his own net.
County’s misery was compounded only two minutes into the second-half when Curtis Main added a second, leaving Owen Coyle’s men cursing another missed opportunity.
It is now 11 matches without a victory in all competitions, and although the gap behind second-bottom Partick Thistle was not increased, County will not be able to rely on favours from others for much longer, with 15 matches now left.
The trip to Fir Park marked their return to league business following their early Scottish Cup exit at the hands of Kilmarnock at the weekend, with Partick’s defeat against Celtic on Tuesday giving Owen Coyle’s men the chance to pull back level with the Jags with a victory in Lanarkshire last night.
Coyle kept changes to a minimum despite the defeat by Killie, with only defender Marcus Fraser drafted in to replace the injured Jamie Lindsay. The Staggies manager resisted the temptation to include high-profile new additions Harry Souttar and David Ngog from the start, but Souttar was given a quick introduction to action with his new club, as he replaced skipper Andrew Davies just six minutes in after he landed heavily in the opening stages.
Attacker Inih Effiong was given another chance to put forward his claim to lead the line. County made a bright start, with Effiong given some early encouragement but he saw an early backheeled attempt blocked by Tom Aldred in the opening minutes.
Motherwell’s first effort came on 14 minutes, when attacker Nadir Ciftci saw his low effort from the edge of the box deflected into the side-netting, while Craig Tanner came close with a free kick that flew just past Aaron McCarey’s goal.
The two sides cancelled each other out for much of the first half, with both teams’ attacking players starved of service in what was shaping up to be a poor encounter.
County gave their supporters occasional encouragement with some neat offerings on the counter-attack, although their first meaningful attempt did not arrive until just after the half-hour mark when Jim O’Brien played the ball into Effiong’s feet inside the box, with the former Woking attacker sending a shot wide on the turn.
The hosts made a half-hearted appeal for a penalty on 41 minutes when Chris Cadden’s delivery cannoned off Michael Gardyne on its way through to McCarey. Given some of the misfortune that has come County’s way from refereeing decisions in recent weeks, Coyle may have seen Kevin Clancy’s non-award as a sign his side’s luck was changing. It was not to be.
Chris Cadden’s floated ball to the near post looked to be bereft of any danger for the visitors as it was directed well outwith the reach of any of his team-mates, but the unfortunate Souttar saw his attempt to clear the ball behind for a corner beat McCarey and nestle in the corner. A finish any striker would have been proud of, but a horrible moment for the debutant, who had played well until that point.
County needed a quick response at the start of the second half, but their task was made even harder just two minutes after the break when the hosts doubled their advantage. Fraser protested furiously for a foul by Ciftci in the move which cut the Staggies defence wide open, with the on-loan Celtic attacker able to lay the ball on for the onrushing Main to prod home from close-range.
In very little time, County’s evening was becoming a nightmare. Coyle acted instantly by bringing on Ngog for Effiong, who had struggled to impose himself on the game, and the former Liverpool striker brought an instant spark to the Staggies attack, seeing a low effort beaten away by goal-keeper Trevor Carson.
The visitors would have been right back in the game had they pulled one back and outstanding defending from Well thwarted Draper twice in quick succession, with Carson beating away his point-blank header from Jason Naismith’s cross, before Main cleared another effort off the line from the resulting corner.But it was too little too late for County.