As football resumed with a trip to Fir Park after the international break, Aberdeen boss Stephen Glass made two changes to the side that drew 1-1 with Ross County at Pittodrie. Dean Campbell dropped to the bench and with Austin Samuels also missing through injury, in came Jack MacKenzie and Marley Watkins. Connor McLennan returned to take a place among the subs and was joined there by new signing David Bates.
Having won their last two games, including a 1-0 win at home to Dundee immediately before the break, Motherwell boss Graham Alexander made three changes to his team with Justin Amaluzor, Ricki Lamie and the suspended Jake Carroll missing out. Replacing them were Sondre Solholm, Nathan McGinley and Kevin van Veen.
Aberdeen settled quickly into a nice passing groove in the Lanarkshire sun, keeping the home side penned into their own half through the opening minutes, but without being able to force any clear opening.
The first real action came on 17 minutes, Scott Brown feeding Funso Ojo. He advanced a few paces towards goal but his rising shot from 25 yards was never a threat.
Five minutes later, MacKenzie fired a great cross through the box that just eluded Ojo coming in at the back post. Aberdeen recycled the ball, Calvin Ramsay's cross from the right picking out Watkins. His header from eight yards was fumbled by Kelly, but he was able to flop down on the loose ball as Watkins followed through. Then on 23 minutes, MacKenzie became the first player booked, some surprise after the Steelmen had clocked up a host of fouls through the first quarter of the game.
Watt had a great opportunity from O'Hara's cross after a 'Well corner on 25 minutes. The ball reached him at the back stick but with all the goal to aim at, he headed wide. It was a warning not heeded, for the hosts were in front within a minute. Mugabi's powerful header forwards was contested by Watt and Ross McCrorie, the ball squirting out wide to Woolery. He drilled a cross to the far post where Van Veen rose unimpeded to thump in a header.
Van Veen marked his goal by chopping down Ramsay seconds later and getting booked, then almost immediately he came off second best in a crunching tackle with Brown, needing treatment before continuing.
New Scotland international Lewis Ferguson showed his strength on 31 minutes, powering into the box before firing off a shot, Kelly palming it onto the roof of the net. Van Veen was lucky to escape a second yellow, jumping in on Ramsay after 33 minutes as Motherwell continued to be very physical right across the park.
Watt made himself a handful on 35, twisting and turning into space before shooting, Brown making an important block. Woolery was then carded for a blatant late hack on MacKenzie.
The Dons were just beginning to find their feet again after the shock of going behind, and Ramsay cut inside to fire off a right footed shot from 20 yards, Kelly clutching the ball above his head with seven minutes to go to the break. Ramsay repeated the trick on 41 minutes, this time a left footer that Kelly spilled, Christian Ramirez flag'ed offside as he homed in on the rebound.
OHara was next in the book, barging into the back of Ferguson as he went up to win a header on 44 minutes.
HALF-TIME: MOTHERWELL 1 ABERDEEN 0
The visitors were quick out of the blocks after the break and won a corner inside 20 seconds, but Ramsay's delivery from the left was easily cleared. Ferguson had a pop at goal from a tight angle on 53 minutes, a straightforward save for Kelly.
Kelly had to do a bit more a minute later as Watkins bustled into the box, but he stood firm and stopped Watkins' attempted chip. It was Watkins again on 55, a fierce drive from the edge of the area that Kelly palmed away.
Ferguson was next into the book, bundling into Watt just inside the Aberdeen half on 58 minutes as Ramsay was down injured at the other end. From the free-kick, with Ramsay off the pitch and getting treatment, Motherwell cleverly worked the ball out wide on their left. Van Veen collected it and played another deep, probing ball into the box, Ojala up to it the strongest, directing his header in off the bar to double the lead.
It could have been worse yet on 61, Lewis doing brilliantly to claw away a Van Veen cross from underneath the bar. Grimshaw was swiftly onto the rebound though, looking certain to score until Ferguson arrived from nowhere to make a critical clearance.
Bates made his Aberdeen debut, replacing the injured Ramsay on 63 minutes, McCrorie going to right-back. Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and McLennan followed him into battle in place of Longstaff and Ojo on 67 minutes. Grimshaw was booked on 73 minutes for a rugby tackle on Emmanuel-Thomas and the hosts then made their first change, Lamie replacing Woolery.
Sixteen minutes from time, a low snapshot from Brown on the edge of the box looked like it might cause trouble but Kelly was right behind it once again.
Van Veen was dicing with danger once more with a couple of lunges at McCrorie that went unpunished, but discretion was the better part of valour for Motherwell boss Graham Alexander who immediately hooked him on 80 minutes, Goss replacing him. Watt did collect a booking seven minutes from time, shoving Brown to the ground after losing out in a tussle with the Dons' skipper.
Some good play from Emmanuel-Thomas on 86 minutes, a reverse pass inside the right-back, set MacKenzie away into space but his cross was much too close to the goalkeeper.
A McLennan cross was next to raise hopes, Watkins' acrobatic volley deflected behind as the game entered the final minute, McCrorie collecting a booking moments later for a foul on Watt. Watt then made way for Maguire, Brown then becoming the game's ninth booking for dissent in the dying seconds.
Motherwell in the end fully deserved the victory.