Motherwell wasted the chance to get within two points of Ross County with this frustrating Scottish Premiership loss at Fir Park.
The three points would have been crucial for ’Well in their top six battle but it wasn’t to be as County took the spoils despite the hosts bossing much of the match.
After the 6-0 battering at Tynecastle the previous week, ’Well manager Mark McGhee welcomed back Keith Lasley from suspension and made two other changes with Kieran Kennedy drafted in at right back and young Chris Cadden making his first senior start on the right flank.
After a largely uneventful opening 20 minutes in a library-like atmosphere, County took the lead when Ian McShane’s corner from the left found an unmarked Jackson Irvine at the back post and he shot home.
Irvine – a transfer target for ’Well last summer – hadn’t been listed as a starter in the original team sheet but got in when Martin Woods took unwell during the warm-up.
’Well hit back just two minutes later when Scott McDonald’s cross from the right was met by the head of Louis Moult, whose fine effort was tipped over by Scott Fox.
Winger Marvin Johnson created the Steelmen’s next chance with a fine run and cross from the left which Moult headed wide.
A misplaced pass in the County defence was then seized upon by Cadden, whose 20-yard shot was turned round the post by Fox.
The hosts then came within inches of scoring when Stephen McManus’s head flick from a Johnson free-kick only just missed the far post.
The one way traffic towards the County goal continued in the second half, with Johnson’s fizzed 51st minute cross from the left flashing agonisingly across the goal before McDonald flicked a shot wide after great build-up work by Johnson and Moult.
But County were looking dangerous on the break and Johnson cleared Michael Gardyne’s headed effort off the goal line before ’Well goalie Connor Ripley blocked a Gardyne shot with his legs two minutes later.
But County did net their second on 68 minutes when Brian Graham shot home after substitute Stewart Murdoch’s cross from the right.
After fellow sub Craig Curran had missed a chance to make it 3-0 by shooting wide, ’Well pulled one back when sub Lionel Ainsworth’s corner from the left saw Pearson shoot home after Kennedy’s initial header.
Lasley nearly earned ’Well a point but Fox saved his stunning 20-yard shot.