The Beast from the East couldn’t stop this cup-tie and Motherwell and Hearts served up a game that was almost as ferocious before Hearts were blown back to Edinburgh with a thundercrack winner for the Steelmen.
The Jambos had been dire in the first half then much improved after the break and it seemed they’d forced a replay but then up stepped captain Carl McHugh with a thunderous right-foot strike.
It was a barnstorming, bone-juddering and none too bonnie contest but Steven Robinson’s men never quibble about such concerns and they’re the team heading to Hampden.
Craig Levein had been desperate to lay on a trip to Mount Florida for the maroon-clad faithful - the club hadn’t been there on Scottish Cup business since lifting the trophy six years ago - but the 4,700 who battled through the wintry conditions witnessed a performance of fight but little creativity - or anything like the quality of the decisive goal.
There had been some cynicism in the lead-up that while the entire weekend’s SPFL card was wiped out by snow the four quarter-finals had survived. Three of them were being shown live on TV, of course, and the broadcasters may not have displayed the same interest if they’d had to be re-scheduled.
Fears were also expressed for fan safety, with Hearts mustering the biggest travelling contingent of the round, but with the M8 snowy but clear, the Jambos filled the entire away end. Further down the list of concerns was the quality of football we would see for doubtless the home fans wouldn’t have minded if Cedric Kipre and Joaquim Adao had engaged in the crash-bang-wallop of ice hockey if their man was going to come out on top.
The ice dance beauty of Torvill and Dean was unlikely anyway. These clubs were fierce opponents with fierce ambitions: Motherwell, having gone far in a cup already this season, were eager to get back to Hampden; Hearts had almost forgotten what the place looked like while their dear neighbours Hibernian had been frequent recent visitors.
Tynecastle captain Christophe Berra offered an honest assessment: “We don’t play pretty football but then we can’t all be Man City.” From Man Utd, Hearts were missing the on-loan Demitri Mitchell, the dynamic wing-back being an injury casualty. The re-shuffle offered a debut to the young Canadian Marcus Godinho.
Motherwell thought they’d scored right away. A cross from the left was fumbled by Jon McLaughlin who’d crouched awkwardly in an attempt to gather. Chris Cadden poked the ball home but was adjudged to have kicked it from the keeper’s hands.
The lead was only delayed. Craig Tanner struck a corner right along the ground. A bit of bagatelle followed, McLaughlin hardly distinguishing himself once again, Ross Callachan just as culpable for not clearing at the near post, and the ball dribbled over the line. “Someone has scored for Motherwell!” roared the Fir Park announcer. Curtis Main tried to claimed the goal but it was eventually credited to McLaughlin.
Hearts’ responses in the first quarter usually foundered on the rock that was Kipre in the heart of the home defence. A Fir Park folk-hero, he wasn’t afraid to try some delicate stuff; indeed the song sung in his honour may have demanded this. He wasn’t having any trouble with the surface - no one was - but the tie needed the same kind of subtlety to be shown in the middle of the park. Hearts’ biggest hope in that area, young Harry Cochrane, struggled to make an impact. Passes went astray and he was barged off the ball.
There was plenty of barging all over the pitch, some of it even legitimate. The challenges that weren’t got the fans off their feet, which would have kept the blood circulating on such a Siberian afternoon. Kyle Lafferty, the Hearts top goalscorer and controversialist, was involved in many of them. The closest he came to scoring in a dismal first half for the Jambos was a free-kick which fluttered the side netting.
At the other end the big unit Curtis Main was a muscular competitor. He made something out of not very much to set up Craig Tanner who got too excited and blasted over from the edge of the box.
Hearts made a change at the interval, David Milinkovic replacing the ineffectual Callachan. Their fans resumed in lusty voice and were rewarded with a goal from the penalty spot. The game’s best player until that point, Kipre, conceded the award with a rash challenge on Stephen Naismith. The game’s most notorious figure, Lafferty, levelled the contest and two minutes later almost put Hearts ahead, his low angled shot striking the base of Trevor Carson’s far post.
Motherwell tried to rally by introducing Ryan Bowman but Hearts were in control and a glancing Lafferty header from a Cochrane cross needed a fingertip save from Carson. The difference from the first period for Hearts was like night and day, like slush and sunshine. Lafferty was concentrating on the ball and Godinho was coming onto a game in the midfield.
But Motherwell weathered this storm and started charging back upfield. A headed clearance from Berra reached McHugh 20 yards out. He caught the ball on his chest and thumped it into the roof of the net. The announcer’s reaction said it all - “Wow!”