Ross County’s late push for a top-six place gathered further pace as they defeated Motherwell 1-0 in a close-fought encounter at Fir Park.
Joseph Hungbo’s penalty gave the Staggies an early advantage, with Malky Mackay’s men holding firm with an excellent defensive display.
It saw County record their first back-to-back league wins of the season, and a first clean sheet since a goalless draw with St Mirren on December 1.
Mackay largely kept faith with the side which saw off St Johnstone 3-1 on Saturday, with the only change seeing skipper Keith Watson replaced by Kayne Ramsay.
The Staggies’ triumph over Saints had brought a potential top-half finish back into focus. With only five points separating the Dingwall men from the sixth-placed Steelmen, County had plenty of incentive to build on their triumph over the Perth outfit.
Neither goalkeeper was seriously tested in the opening stages, although Ross Laidlaw flapped at a Jake Carroll cross, but he was able to collect the follow-up attempt by Sean Goss.
The Staggies were handed the perfect chance to take the lead on 15 minutes, however. Ramsay was clearly tripped by Well full back Carroll but despite question marks over whether the foul was committed inside the penalty box, referee John Beaton pointed to the spot.
Hungbo stepped up to take the penalty, and clinically sent Liam Kelly the wrong way to net his third goal from his last four starting outings.
Motherwell looked for a quick response but County stood firm, with Kevin Van Veen seeing a strike blocked from the edge of the area.
The hosts were largely reduced to efforts from distance, with a strike by Mark O’Hara on 32 minutes met by a strong block by Alex Iacovitti which carried it safely into Laidlaw’s grasp.
Well, who were without a win in eight games prior to the visit of the Staggies, were regularly wasteful in possession, which drew frustration from the home crowd.
County looked to mount pressure in search of a second goal before half-time, with Ramsay seeing a powerful strike blocked by Carroll, while Ross Callachan’s snapshot from the edge of the box was comfortably collected by Kelly.
The visitors were able to hold on to their lead until the break with relative comfort, however, Well should have levelled just 90 seconds into the second half.
A neat move saw Kayne Woolery play in Van Veen down the inside right channel, with his cutback screwed wide by Connor Shields, who had the goal at his mercy just six yards out.
Van Veen took it upon himself to have a strike at goal from long range on 50 minutes, but his effort was straight down the throat of Laidlaw.
County had their first glimpse of goal in the second period on 53 minutes, with Jack Baldwin’s ball over the top releasing Harry Paton, whose ball across the face of goal was narrowly missed by the advancing Jordan White.
Mackay looked to his bench midway through the second half, with Blair Spittal and Jack Burroughs introduced for Hungbo and Paton in quick succession.
The Staggies had Laidlaw to thank for keeping them level on 65 minutes when Van Veen released Woolery in behind Connor Randall. The winger’s low effort was met by a firm block by the feet of the County goalkeeper.
County knew a second goal would all-but-secure the points, with a Baldwin throw-in making its way to Spittal, whose rushed effort drifted well wide.
A neat move down the left flank then saw Callachan feed Regan Charles-Cook on the edge of the box, with his effort comfortably held by Kelly.
The Staggies also knew Well would force a late push as long as it remained 1-0, and Van Veen was not far from levelling with a header which drifted wide from a Carroll free-kick on 79 minutes.
Laidlaw had to make another impressive stop to thwart Jordan Roberts’ late header from a corner, with the Staggies holding on to their advantage.
MOTHERWELL (4-3-3) – Kelly 6; O’Donnell 6, Lamie 5, Solholm Johansen 5 (Slattery 79), Carroll 5; O’Hara 6, Donnelly 6, Goss 6 (Roberts 73); Woolery 7, Van Veen 6, Shields 5 (Efford 57). Subs not used – Fox, Mugabi, Shaw, Ojala, Cornelius, Tierney.
ROSS COUNTY (4-2-3-1) – Laidlaw 7; Ramsay 7, Baldwin 8, Iacovitti 8, Randall 6; Callachan 7, Tillson 6; Hungbo 7 (Spittal 57), H Paton 6 (Burroughs 63), Charles-Cook 6 (D Samuel 85); White 7. Subs not used – Munro, Vokins, Drysdale, B Paton, Wright, Mackinnon.
Referee – John Beaton 6
Attendance – 3,597
Man of the match: Alex Iacovitti