Motherwell are an easy target for critics – and that’s all that’s easy about them. The Steelmen have more than lived up to their traditional moniker this season, a character trait which has drawn rancour from some quarters.
However, when it’s all said and done, they’re the side who’ll be battling for the Scottish Cup trophy next month, the second time they’ll play in a national final this season, after rag-dolling Aberdeen out of Saturday’s semi.
This performance is what you could call “classic Motherwell” under the stewardship of Stephen Robinson. The front two of Curtis Main and Ryan Bowman bullied the Aberdeen centre-backs, the midfield nullified the threat from Aberdeen and the defence remained resolute throughout.
There were moments of luck. A handball that could have been called on Richard Tait in the build-up to Main’s opener, an arguable trip on Kari Arnason by Bowman before the striker netted the second. But in the end there was no doubt the better team won.
Quite simply, they wanted it more. And they achieve it by being who they are: tough and direct. What’s refreshing about the approach is the honesty that goes with it. Motherwell don’t try to hide who they are. They embrace it and they will certainly not apologise for it.
“We are what it says on the tin: big, ugly, physical, strong, quick,” said Tom Aldred, a rock for the pre-match underdogs in central defence. “We don’t hide it. We enjoy it. If it gets results then why change it? We knew today we’d have to be on it because we played them in the league the other week and we weren’t ourselves. We knew today that we had to be right at it.
“I felt we were just stronger than them. We wanted it more, were more physical and won the one-on-one battles, which you have to do, especially in big games like this.”
“We play to our strengths,” added combative midfielder Allan Campbell, who, along with Liam Grimshaw and Andy Rose, worked tirelessly in the centre. “It shows you the results we are getting that teams don’t like it. We keep winning games so we are going to keep doing it. It’s as simple as that. We like to defend in the opposition’s half, get it up the park and play up there. We have boys like Main and Bowman who can do that business. Louis Moult was a great player for us but Maino has come in and been brilliant. With Bowman and him, it’s a credit to both of them.
“Main has a great work ethic. In training he puts 100 per cent in everyday, he’s up at the gym every day. He’s a great role model.
“We’ll not change our style. We play some good football too. We may not pass it out from the keeper but we play in the opposition’s half. People maybe don’t see that. As long as Motherwell are winning, that’s all that matters.”
A candid assessment also came from the losing side. Aberdeen could have focused on the handball in the lead up to Main’s first but they knew they were well beaten. There was a glorious chance to get the club back to the Scottish Cup final after the heartbreak of last year and they blew their opportunity without even putting up much of a fight.
“They outbattled us, worked harder than us and when we got chances we didn’t take them,” said captain for the day Scott McKenna. “Pointing to the ref is the easy way out. We just need to defend it better. I should clear the ball for the second one. I should have gone with my right foot, but went with the left and put it up in the air. It caused us a problem and they capitalised on it. We can’t look for excuses.
“The manager was rightly having a go at a few of us because we deserved it. It was too late after the game, though, for players to argue with each other. The players should have been getting on to each other during the game and trying to turn it around. It’s easy to do it after the game when it’s over and done with.”
Off the back of two defeats, Aberdeen can’t afford a post-split slide like the ones suffered at the tail-end of both the 2014-15 and 2015-16 campaigns. The Dons remain in joint-second, behind Rangers on goal difference. With Hibernian lurking just three points behind, there also exists the danger that fourth place will no longer gain entry into European football, which will instead go to Motherwell if they can repeat their heroics and upset Celtic in the final.
“There’s still a lot to play for,” added McKenna. “We definitely need to get second after this result. It will be hard as Rangers and Hibs are going well but we need to pull ourselves together and go again.
“It’s important we get European football for next season. It’s up to us to look back at what went wrong and put it right. It’s only us that can fix this.”