Match ends, Ross County 1, Motherwell 2.
Declan Gallagher's dramatic injury-time winner earned Motherwell victory over 10-man Ross County to keep them third in the Scottish Premiership.
Blair Spittal nodded County ahead early on in Dingwall only for Lewis Spence's straight red card to set up a late onslaught.
Debutant Ross MacIver's wonder strike ensured a grandstand finish with nine minutes to play before Gallagher's header at the death, keeping Motherwell two points ahead of chasing Aberdeen while County remain eighth.
Stephen Robinson's side launched a bombardment on the home defence for most of the game, with the pressure only intensifying after Spence's dismissal.
Gallagher's intervention - which sparked a mini pitch invasion among the travelling support - delivered Motherwell's fifth win in six games.
European two-horse race intensifies
Already the tussle for third place in the Premiership appears to be a two-horse race. In the build-up to this Boxing Day card, 11 points separated Motherwell from Kilmarnock in fifth, with Aberdeen only two points behind. The danger of the pair breaking away from the chasing pack going into the winter break was real.
The manner in which that chasm was not allowed to narrow by Motherwell speaks of the spirit that has some believing a six-year hiatus from European football may be brought to an end.
Behind against a run-of-play opener, Robinson's team did not yield in the face of that setback. Or, indeed, to chance after chance being denied either by the intervention of inspired County goalkeeper Nathan Baxter or the charmed life of the goal he was in charge of leaping about in front of.
Lesser teams would have long since been worn down before the resistance was finally broken as the clock crept towards the 82nd minute.
In truth, the onslaught started early. James Scott was denied twice by Baxter early on, one from point-blank range thanks to a neatly flicked through ball from former Inverness midfielder Liam Polworth. The Dingwall goalkeeper had a fine afternoon, and this was just the start of it.
Despite the flow of traffic, it was Motherwell's negligence - and doziness - in defence that left the door wide open for a late Christmas present.
Ross Stewart strode forward unchallenged before feeding an equally unoccupied Sean Kelly on the left. His floated cross found the unmarked Spittal on the penalty spot, and Mark Gillespie's clawing hand could only nudge the ball further into the net. Could he have done better? Quite possibly, but he wasn't the only one.
That goal triggered a lull as County grew and Motherwell relented. Polworth should have done better to break the malaise when slipped through by Jermaine Hylton, but the Inverness-born midfielder skewed his shout wide of the far post.
Then, came the turning point. Sherwin Seedorf was sent scampering through on goal after 62 minutes and a desperate lunge from Spence brought him to the deck, and a card from Greg Aitken's pocket.
The pressure continued to be ramped up but, just as County thought they were going to survive, a bittersweet moment cost them. Motherwell debutant MacIver was released by the Highland club in the summer, and he would make them pay by guiding a sumptuous right-foot shot into far top corner from 25 yards.
While the scenes in the away were something to behold at that point, it was nothing compared to 11 minutes later when, with two minutes of injury time gone, Scotland centre-half Gallagher outjumped everyone six yards out to force home a header that broke Highland hearts and buoyed European dreams of the few slaloming back down a dark and wintry A9.
Man of the match - Declan Gallagher
Eilidh Davies at the Global Energy Stadium for BBC Scotland
Gallagher was instrumental for the visitors grabbing a last-gasp winner. His goal ensured Motherwell took all three points in Dingwall just as it looked as if it would end with each team sharing the spoils.
The 28-year-old defender was industrious throughout as County tried to break down the Motherwell defence but, along with his team-mates, he ensured the hosts could not claim more than one goal.
'A bitter pill to swallow' - reaction
Ross County co-manager Stuart Kettlewell: "It is a bitter pill to swallow. We weren't poor today and we got our noses in front.
"Lewis' decision to bring down Seedorf puts us down to 10 men and with a real mountain to climb. Outside that I thought we were exceptional. There's no real criticism goes to our players today."
Motherwell manager Stephen Robinson: "I actually thought we very much deserved to win. We made hard work of it. I think they scored with their first chance.
"It just shows the character of the players - we scored the winner in the last minute of the game. We could have come here and settled for a 1-1, we didn't - we kept chasing and kept digging in."
- 18FosterBooked at 71mins
- 4FontaineBooked at 90mins
- 16SpenceBooked at 61mins
- 20SpittalSubstituted forChalmersat 82'minutes
- 9MckaySubstituted forGrahamat 73'minutesBooked at 90mins
- 31GallagherBooked at 49mins
- 5HartleyBooked at 90mins
- 6CampbellSubstituted forMacIverat 73'minutes
- 19PolworthBooked at 90mins
- Greg Aitken
- Shots on Target
Second Half ends, Ross County 1, Motherwell 2.
Liam Polworth (Motherwell) is shown the yellow card.
Brian Graham (Ross County) is shown the yellow card.
Peter Hartley (Motherwell) is shown the yellow card.
Liam Fontaine (Ross County) is shown the yellow card.
Goal! Ross County 1, Motherwell 2. Declan Gallagher (Motherwell) header from very close range to the top right corner. Assisted by Liam Polworth with a cross following a corner.
Corner, Motherwell. Conceded by Callum Morris.
Attempt blocked. Jermaine Hylton (Motherwell) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Richard Tait with a cross.
Offside, Motherwell. Liam Polworth tries a through ball, but James Scott is caught offside.
Richard Tait (Motherwell) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Harrison Paton (Ross County).
Corner, Motherwell. Conceded by Joe Chalmers.
Attempt blocked. Brian Graham (Ross County) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked.
Attempt missed. Josh Mullin (Ross County) left footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the left.
Foul by Richard Tait (Motherwell).
Brian Graham (Ross County) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by James Scott (Motherwell).
Callum Morris (Ross County) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt missed. James Scott (Motherwell) left footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the left. Assisted by Peter Hartley.