Motherwell 2-0 Inverness CT

Motherwell picked off an Inverness Caledonian Thistle side who appeared to suffer the mental exhaustion of losing the Scottish League Cup final.

Billy McKay forced a couple of early saves from returning Well goalkeeper Gunnar Nielsen.

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Interview - Motherwell manager Stuart McCall

But fine balls from fit-again Stevie Hammell exploited losses of concentration in the visiting defence.

And Caley Thistle pressure could not overturn the resulting first-half goals from Lionel Ainsworth and John Sutton.

The three points lift Motherwell level with second-top Aberdeen, although the League Cup winners have played one less game, while defeat leaves Caley Thistle nine points adrift of the victors in the chase for Europa League qualifying places.

It also leaves Inverness manager John Hughes still searching for a balance between the solidity that served predecessor Terry Butcher so well and a more adventurous style that has recently leaked so many goals while also failing to score in their last give games.

Ainsorth and Sutton scored Motherwell's goals against Caley Thistle

Hughes had ignored the effects of possible hangover and fatigue by keeping faith with most of the side that battled bravely for 120 minutes on Sunday before losing out on penalties to the Dons.

Aaron Doran, who had been dropped to the bench at Celtic Park, was back in favour, swapping places with the man who replaced him, Marley Watkins, and the speedy winger immediately created a chance on the break at Fir Park.

Greg Tansey's first-time shot, though, was a mere confidence booster for Nielsen, with the goalkeeper, who was taking over from the injured Lee Hollis, flopping onto the low drive.

Hammell, another of Well manager Stuart McCall's three changes, swiftly created even more danger at the other end, but the left-back's low cross to the front post just evaded Sutton's toes.

However, Caley Thistle were the more incisive side in the early stages and McKay had two dangerous efforts well saved.

A first-time strike from a clever James Vincent chest down and a half-volley following a David Raven cross might have given Nielsen greater problems had the Caley Thistle top marksman's scoring rate not deserted him since the new year.

Suddenly, gaps started to appear in the Caley Thistle backline and Ainsworth had a volley pushed wide by Dean Brill and, from the corner, the goalkeeper was also called into action to hold a Keith Lasley snap-shot.

Inverness failed to heed those warnings and Hammell's long ball out of defence sent speed merchant Ainsworth clear to fire past Brill.

Hammell was the creator again eight minutes later when his low pass whipped across the six-yard box found Sutton diving in at the back post to head Well into a two-goal half-time lead.

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Interview - Inverness manager John Hughes

Ryan Christie came on for Doran at half-time, but Caley Thistle failed to fill the defensive gaps as James McFadden ought to have found the target with a volley and Shaun Hutchinson headed just wide.

As much as the visitors were lacking at the back, they were dangerous going forward and captain Richie Foran's effort was parried from close range by Nielsen and Tansey's drive on the rebound was deflected off the line by Hutchinson.

Christie, who has inherited a football cleverness from his father, former Caley Thistle player and manager Charlie, fired a low drive just wide.

It was an improved display going forward but, despite their admirable tenacity, Caley Thistle paid heavily for those lapses in defence against a Well side who did not need to be anywhere near their best to secure victory.