Motherwell spoiled Tommy Wright’s return to the Scottish Premiership as Allan Campbell’s second-half strike earned the visitors a 1-0 victory at Kilmarnock.
Campbell finished in emphatic fashion in the 71st minute after an impressive assist from Tony Watt, one of Wright’s former players at St Johnstone.
The Northern Irishman assumed control on Monday following the departure of Alex Dyer but his task got a little bit harder as Motherwell moved four points ahead of their opponents in the bottom four after inflicting Kilmarnock’s sixth consecutive defeat.
Killie had plenty of possession and pressure but Motherwell defended their box well and had the better chances with the home side still missing injured centre-backs Kirk Broadfoot and Stuart Findlay.
The away win was further evidence of the positive impact made by Graham Alexander since he beat Wright to the post of Motherwell boss last month.
The former Salford boss has now accumulated 11 points in seven games and the Steelmen are closer to the top six than the bottom two.
It was Motherwell’s first trip to Rugby Park since 2019, with this fixture eventually rearranged after the home side successfully challenged an SPFL decision to award Motherwell a 3-0 win after a coronavirus outbreak left them without an available first-team player on October 2.
Kilmarnock’s best chance of the half came after they won a free-kick immediately after launching the ball forward from kick-off. Clevid Dikamona found space to meet the delivery but headed wide off a Motherwell player.
The opening half was littered with fouls – 17 in all – as two well-matched teams competed for every ball.
Motherwell had the better chances with most falling to Devante Cole. The in-form striker saw a volley diverted over and a header comfortably saved before getting a real sight of goal late in the half when Watt headed on a long ball. The striker appeared to be in behind but he scuffed his volley and it trundled into Colin Doyle’s hands.
Cole got an even better opportunity 10 minutes into the second half when Watt’s flick-on after a long free-kick found him unmarked six yards out but Doyle somehow blocked his diving header.
Wright had watched the first half from the stand before returning to his natural habitat on the touchline. His team were doing most of the pressing, with Greg Kiltie looking dangerous in possession, but they were undone after a quickly-taken throw.
Alexander helped recycle the ball for Jake Carroll to swiftly find Watt, who turned and threaded the ball into the path of Campbell to fire in off the crossbar.
Wright responded immediately by bringing on George Oakley and Mitch Pinnock to add height and power to his strikeforce alongside Nicke Kabamba.
Alexander brought on an extra defender, Tyler Magloire, and Motherwell withstood some intense pressure.
Killie left-back Brandon Haunstrup volleyed over from a decent chance and Kabamba got a better one as Motherwell struggled to get set following a short corner, but the striker headed straight at Liam Kelly.