Elias Melkersen has dream first Hibs start as Bevis Mugabi's first-minute red card sets tone for dramatic Scottish Cup tie
Signed from Bodo/Glimt on January for a fee in excess of £300,000, the teenager has had to wait a while to force his way into the first team, a mixture of fitness, illness and acclimatising to life in Scotland resulting in him having to bide his time.
Two substitute appearances against Dundee and St Johnstone had done enough to convince manager Shaun Maloney that he was worth a start for a Hibs team that had failed to score in six of its past eight matches. With main striker Kevin Nisbet sidelined for at least seven months and Christian Doidge without a goal since the summer, Hibs needed someone to step up to the plate.
He did that and more, two first-half efforts enough to book an eighth trip to Hampden in the past three years, albeit they were given a massive assist by Motherwell’s Bevis Mugabi.
Just 49 seconds were on the clock when the Motherwell defender recklessly lunged at Josh Doig. Referee Willie Collum was left with little option but to send him off, despite the protestations of the home fans. Mugabi’s crestfallen visage backed up the official’s decision. Doig, with a gashed leg, could not continue,
Had Collum decided to also dismiss Jordan Roberts for a similarly dangerous challenge on Drey Wright just six minutes later, there would have been few complaints. The referee only flashed a yellow card; there wasn’t much difference between the two tackles.
Clearly rattled, Motherwell were disorganised, and while Hibs had gone three matches without a goal, they knew there would be opportunities here. Step forward Mr Melkersen.
While the young Norwegian will hog the headlines, Fulham loanee Sylvester Jasper deserves credit for assisting both his first-half goals. The Bulgarian flummoxed Nathan McGinley on the right flank and curled in a vicious cross that Melkersen glanced home from close range on 15 minutes. He then sent the forward clean through on 37 minutes with a long pass and Melkersen showed composure to steady himself and drill a low left-footed effort beyond Liam Kelly.
Motherwell grabbed a lifeline when Efford diverted a wayward shot from Roberts beyond Matt Macey with his chest two minutes before the break to ensure a competitive second period.
Jasper blotted his copybook on 53 minutes with the sort of dive better suited to the Edinburgh International swimming meeting back along the M8. He was rightly booked for it. Of more concern for Hibs was the sight of Ewan Henderson coming off injured, adding to an already oversubscribed treatment table.
Despite their numerical advantage, Hibs had lost control of the match. With Melkersen tiring, Maloney replaced him with Christian Doidge and introduced veteran centre-back Darren McGregor, switching to a back-four to give Hibs more solidity.
Motherwell continued to drive forward. Their own substitute, Kaiyne Woolery, so nearly equalised on 84 minutes with a rasping drive that flew an inch over the bar.
Hibs had emptied, but fortunately for them, Motherwell did not have enough to force extra time, and once again the capital club are back at Hampden.