ABERDEEN may have become unaccustomed to being installed as favourites to win silverware in recent years but they lived up to the tag as they overcame considerable odds last night to claim their place in the League Cup semi-finals.
Scorers: Aberdeen - Considine (83), Hayes (90)
The bookies’ tip to lift the trophy next March achieved victory while playing with ten men for 77 minutes after the early red card shown to Joe Shaughnessy. Ironically, it was substitute Andrew Considine, introduced as Derek McInnes reorganised his troops, who set them on their way with a dramatic 83rd-minute opener.
Victory was sealed by Jonny Hayes’ stoppage time strike, leaving Motherwell manager Stuart McCall to rue his team’s inability to capitalise on their numerical advantage. It was a scrappy cup-tie throughout but Aberdeen’s resilience was admirable as they took a major step towards ending their 18-year major trophy drought.
When the quarter-final draw was made, some observers had even gone as far as to proclaim the winners of this tie as the team most likely to savour ultimate triumph in the final next March. While that was certainly a premature assessment, there could be no doubt the followers of both clubs fancied their chances of going all the way in a tournament which was without the presence of both Celtic and Rangers at this stage for the first time in more than half a century.
Another healthy travelling Aberdeen support was testimony to their growing belief in the work McInnes is undertaking at the club but their faith in the prospects of potential League Cup silverware was sorely tested in a torrid opening 15 minutes.
Motherwell showed positivity right from the start, Henri Anier dragging a 20-yard shot just wide of Jamie Langfield’s right-hand post. The home side maintained that early momentum and thought they had taken the lead when John Sutton found the net in the fifth minute with a looping shot from the left-hand side of the penalty area which Langfield got a hand to but could not prevent finding the net.
Referee John Beaton initially allowed the goal and the Motherwell players were well into their celebrations before they realised assistant referee Graham Chambers had belatedly flagged for offside against Sutton. If that decision went in Aberdeen’s
favour, however, their assignment looked all the more difficult with Shaughnessy’s dismissal. The young Irishman protested his innocence but his challenge on Zaine Francis-Angol was rash at best and unquestionably needless as it took place in the middle of the pitch.
McInnes took a few minutes to decide on his best options for reorganising his short-handed side. He decided to sacrifice central striker Calvin Zola, replacing him with defender Andrew Considine. Aberdeen came to terms with their new shape quickly, restricting Motherwell to efforts from distance.
The visitors created threatening situations of their own, such as when Jonny Hayes found space down the left and delivered an inviting low ball from the left across the six yard box. But in the absence of an out-and-out striker, there were no takers.
There were calls from the Aberdeen fans for the crime count to be evened up when Shaun Hutchinson left Peter Pawlett in a heap with a late challenge. The referee decided a yellow card was sufficient and it did seem the Motherwell defender had simply mistimed his challenge without the same degree of recklessness which had been exhibited by Shaughnessy. To their credit, Aberdeen finished the first half on the front foot and caused a couple of moments of real anxiety in the home defence. When Motherwell goalkeeper Gunnar Nielsen could not hold a Hayes cross from the right, it looked as if Hutchinson might turn it into his own
net but he managed to recover and boot the ball the safety just in time.
A mistake from Hutchinson then allowed McGinn to burst clear into the penalty area from the left but he was denied a shot at goal by a superbly timed sliding challenge from Stephen McManus.
There was another setback for Aberdeen in first-half stoppage time when young left-back Clark Robertson was taken to dressing room on a stretcher after appearing to jar his ankle in the turf. He was replaced by Scott Vernon as McInnes was forced to rejig his side again.
Motherwell made a change of their own at the start of the second half, McCall seeking to give his team a greater attacking edge as he replaced defensive midfielder Paul Lawson with winger Lionel Ainsworth.
Aberdeen continued to defend doggedly and despite dominating possession, Motherwell found it difficult to work space in behind their opponents back four. With clear-cut chances at such a premium, they could ill afford to waste the kind which fell to Stuart Carswell in the 60th minute.
Francis-Angol finally managed to engineer space on the left and his low cutback found Carswell unmarked around 12 yards out, only for the midfielder to direct his shot straight at Langfield who saved with a degree of comfort.
Motherwell were now knocking on the door and they came agonisingly close to the breakthrough in the 71st minute when Hutchinson leapt impressively to meet Ainsworth’s corner from the right, only to see his thumping header strike the crossbar with Langfield helpless.
Aberdeen looked every inch a side who were settling for extra-time and penalties but they stunned the home side with the 83rd-minute breakthrough. A counter-attack caught Motherwell flat-footed in defence and Nielsen made a fine save to keep out Peter Pawlett’s shot. From the rebound, Vernon forced a corner off Steven Hammell.
Hayes delivered the set piece from the right, picking out Considine at the far post. The big defender timed his jump perfectly to bullet home a header from close range and spark wild celebrations among the Aberdeen fans behind Nielsen’s goal.
With Motherwell desperately pressing forward to try to salvage the tie, Aberdeen wrapped it up in stoppage time when Hayes broke free down the left and beat Nielsen with a fierce shot.
Referee: John Beaton