OWEN Coyle praised his Ross County players for digging deep when it mattered most to ensure Motherwell did not pull off the great escape in Dingwall.
The Staggies manager was thrilled to have seen off the Betfred Cup finalists 3-2 on Saturday – after they had romped into a 3-0 interval lead thanks to a Michael Gardyne brace and a fine strike from Davis Keillor-Dunn, who celebrated his 20th birthday last week by signing a two-year contract extension.
Sub Ryan Bowman and Motherwell’s main man Louis Moult scored with headers in the second half to set up a tense ending, but County held on to now sit just one point outside the top six.
Coyle had mixed feelings about the outcome.
He explained: "Looking back, it was two magnificent headers for the Motherwell goals. That being said, we should stop the crosses coming in. In the build-up to the first goal, there were five or six opportunities to clear that. I stress to the boys all the time to never think you are in a comfort zone because in this league you’re not, you can be punished.
"That’s what happened. The cross comes in too easily and there’s not enough pressure on, although it was an exquisite header.
"When it went 3-2, we could have become nervous or, having been there many time in my career, momentum swings. It can change quickly and you can lose points from a good position, or you can come back to win points that you felt you’d lost when out of a game.
"We showed good character, mentality and resilience late on.
"That being said, we want to make sure we manage game better than we did in the second half.
"We still had one or two opportunities in the second half, but we never passed as well as we did in the first half. When we passed it well in the first half, some of the football we played was, from a fans’ perspective, very exciting to see, culminating in some wonderful goals.
"That was pleasing and, bit by bit, we are making progress, but there is still a long way to go. We stood up and were counted late on and I’ve a few extra grey hairs, but it was a great three points."
The former Bolton boss values team work first and foremost, but he was happy to praise the contribution of midfielder Jim O’Brien when asked about the player’s improvement.
He said: "Jim has real drive and wants to do well. With the experience he has picked up, his game has evolved. That’s a natural development with players. I found that myself as a player, as you grow and develop, you understand the game a bit better. Jim has been terrific for me since I came in and I see it daily on the training ground.
"He trains as if every day is his last, which is something I love about him. There is no doubt he has wonderful ability. I do believe there is more to come from him. He will feel that himself. He wants to drive himself on and get better and I love working with that type of player."