Motherwell’s starting XI in Saturday’s William Hill Scottish Cup final against Celtic will be unrecognisable from the one fielded here but the stand-ins ensured that the feelgood factor at Fir Park was ramped up with this emphatic victory against their local rivals, who were there in body but not in spirit.
With Motherwell resting the bulk of their preferred starting XI ahead of the big one, and Hamilton having effectively confirmed their top-tier status for a fifth successive season, there was little of the gritty enmity one normally associates with Lanarkshire derbies on display here; indeed, it took 17 minutes before anyone had a shot on target. Celtic loanee Nadir Ciftci, who is unable to face his parent club at Hampden, fired in a low drive which Scotland Under-21 goalkeeper Ryan Fulton needed two attempts to gather.
However, the Turk made certain when his next opportunity arrived, following the best move of the first half. Barry Maguire released Richard Tait on the right and, although Fulton managed to push away Ross MacLean’s glancing header, Ciftci was left with a simple finish at the far post to score what was just his second goal for the host club.
It was an oasis of quality in a desert of mediocrity. This was your archetypal end-of-season affair; one team was weakened, with their few automatic choices more concerned with avoiding injury ahead of the showpiece at the national stadium, and the other was already wearing their flip-flops.
The second half was little better, although Hamilton’s cause wasn’t helped by Marios Ogkmpoe, who had come on as part of a double substitution in the 57th minute, lasting less than seven minutes before being injured and replaced himself by Ross Cunningham.
However, Ciftci once again rose above the apathy to score a splendid second goal for Motherwell 20 minutes from the end, wriggling past several half-hearted challenges before dinking the ball behind the advancing Fulton.
Accies had officially chucked it by that stage and Tom Aldred notched a third. Gael Bigirimana’s free-kick ought to have been claimed by Fulton but he came for it and missed it and Tait, at the far post, nodded the ball across the face of the goal to leave the centre-back with a tap-in.
Ciftci was inches away from claiming a hat-trick with a venomous drive from 25 yards which smacked the crossbar. Most of Hamilton’s supporters had left by then; their team’s gumption had vanished long before.
“It just shows our attitude,” said home manager Steve Robinson. “People said we would down tools because we had the cup final in our minds but we haven’t got that in the club; we don’t allow that. Every penny that comes in will be re-invested in the squad. To finish seventh, reach two cup finals and break the 20-game record of clean sheets means it has already been a very, very good season – but we could go and make it a really special one.”