Motherwell proved themselves adept last season at ignoring league form when they delivered a knock-out blow to Rangers’ promotion play-off hopes and they again brushed off poor performances when the chips were down to advance in the League Cup.
The Steelmen arrived at Bayview with more than a whiff of a shock in the air after a run of four successive losses and their concerns grew when they slipped behind to their part-time hosts just after the hour.
However, Nathan Austin’s composed opener was cancelled out by Louis Moult’s equaliser ten minutes from time during a stirring rally and substitute Scott McDonald ensured there was to be no shock when he drove Well into the lead in extra-time. Lionel Ainsworth sealed it with a third four minutes later.
Back in May, when Ian Baraclough’s outfit saved their Premiership status, there were just a couple of places in Scotland’s leagues between the Fir Park side and play-off final rivals Rangers. Last night, with much less at stake, there was a greater disparity between the protagonists, but only on paper.
Motherwell struggled for rhythm early on but came close to a 30th-minute breakthrough, only for Ainsworth’s shot to be hacked off the line by Declan O’Kane after it had slithered past Ryan Goodfellow.
East Fife finished the first half strongly and with their supporters’ boos still ringing in their ears from the interval, Well upped the tempo upon the restart when Louis Laing glanced a corner from substitute Dominic Thomas wide. That profligacy was punished on the hour mark when East Fife took the lead. Kyle Wilkie’s quick pass to Austin allowed the striker the space to curl a superb low shot into the bottom corner.
Austin thought he had doubled the Fifers’ advantage just six minutes later but he was offside when tapping in after Kevin Smith’s shot had been saved. That proved a pivotal moment, as with just ten minutes left Well kept themselves in the tie as Moult swept in from 14 yards.
McDonald somehow scooped over with the goal gaping early in extra-time but then drove home after another shot had rebounded into his path and Ainsworth sealed the victory moments later.