Motherwell upset the odds at Fir Park last night to claim a place in the semi-finals of the Betfred Cup.
As the scoreline might suggest, this was no fluke. Steven Robinson’s side did not just defeat their opponents, they humiliated them.
Derek McInnes’s side were outplayed from start to finish and could have no complaints about the outcome; they were simply awful and, following their sub-standard displays against Hearts and Kilmarnock immediately before this capitulation, the manager has been left with plenty of food for thought for his return here on league duty on Sunday.
Aberdeen have won silverware just twice in the last 28 seasons, both in this competition. However, any notion that it may prove to be lucky for them was soon dispelled.
The visitors could, and probably should, have deflated the boisterous home support by taking the lead in the ninth minute. Ryan Christie unlocked the Steelmen’s rearguard with a characteristic mazy run and fired a shot which Trevor Carson might have seen late. Either way, it fell perfectly for Gary Mackay-Steven, who had plenty of the goal to aim at. Unfortunately his finish lacked composure and accuracy and he sliced his attempt high and wide.
As so often happens, Motherwell were galvanised by that escape and they broke the deadlock in their next attack.
Ryan Bowman deserves credit for chasing down an overhit pass by Carl McHugh which he was always second-favourite to reach. Even when he got there first and supplied Louis Moult 12 yards out, there seemed little danger. The striker was well marshalled by Mark Reynolds, he had his back to the goal and no obvious pass to make. Consequently, he tried his luck by looping the ball over his shoulder.
It should have been gathered comfortably by Aberdeen goalkeeper Joe Lewis; instead, he somehow contrived to juggle with it before dropping it over his line and into the net for a gaffe which will at least make Ross County’s Scott Fox feel a little better about himself having gifted a goal to Rangers’ Alfredo Morelos.
Motherwell have now scored in each of their last 15 games and Robinson’s side sprayed the ball around with a confidence rarely evident in the pre-match favourites, while Aberdeen have stuttered and stumbled of late, drawing against Hearts and Kilmarnock, and there was little cohesion about them here.
They passed up another opening in the 16th minute when Dom Ball headed over from six yards after Andrew Considine had redirected a corner into his flight path.
A pattern was emerging, though, as Motherwell scored again within minutes, another goal which is likely to have kept Lewis awake last night.
Manager McInnes recently described the Englishman as the best goalkeeper in the Premiership but he was at fault again when he was slow to react to Peter Hartley’s header from a Steven Hammell free-kick and, although he got a hand to the ball, he failed to keep it out.
McInnes responded by replacing the ineffectual Mackay-Steven with the more robust Adam Rooney in an attempt to remain in the tournament.
Those home fans bracing themselves for an Aberdeen onslaught after the restart were disappointed in the best possible way. Instead, the hosts once again seized the initiative and Lewis rediscovered his reflexes in time to keep out a full-blooded drive from Moult, whose intelligent movement was causing all sorts of problems for the visitors and may have prompted the introduction of Kari Arnason for Reynolds.
Stevie May’s persistence helped create a half-chance for strike partner Rooney but the Irishman’s effort from 15 yards was comfortably saved by countryman Carson.
Motherwell, though,looked just as likely to increase their lead than see it reduced and Graeme Shinnie had to clear a Bowman shot off the line.
They came closer still when academy graduate Allan Campbell’s crisp shot eluded Lewis’s grasp only to strike the inside of both posts before being smothered by him.
However, the best was yet to come for the home support. With five minutes left and the Dons chasing the game, Moult, who was also on target twice against Hibs on Saturday, latched on to a long ball out of defence and raced on to smash the ball past Lewis from the tightest of angles in the 85th minute.