There was something of the street fighter dusting up the nine-stone weakling about Motherwell’s muscling of their way to the Scottish Cup final this afternoon.
The endeavour and desire produced by the Fir Park men in spades as they pulled off the remarkable achievement of reaching a second cup final this season warrants being applauded. Yet it isn’t churlish to also question elements of means that brought about this end, even as Stephen Robinson’s side utterly deserved their one-sided victory. With their ploy of launching the ball forward to strikers who throw themselves into aerial challenges with scary abandon, Motherwell aren’t exactly easy on the eye. With the profound budgetary challenges that Robinson reflected on as he basked in a barely-credible feat – he related that few clubs would require to “buy medical beds off e-Bay” – pound for pound Motherwell are easily the most effective side in the country, though.
They were pulsating against an Aberdeen with barely a pulse. Disjointed and all-too-easily-dispirited, their defending was abysmal at all three goals – as Derek McInnes ruefully acknowledged.
Epitomising the encounter were circumstances surrounding Curtis Main’s second goal, and his side’s cherry-on final strike, that arrived in 66 minutes. A punt to the halfway line by Andy Rose reached Kari Arnason. A shambolic attempt to thump the ball back the way it came resulted in the rebound allowing the English striker to race in on Joe Lewis before producing an immaculate, nerveless finish.
Perhaps the most extraordinary element of Motherwell’s continued odds-upsetting is that they remain so potent after having sold Scotland’s form striker, Louis Moult, who was instrumental in Motherwell’s march to the League Cup final. His replacement Main has led the charge to a second showpiece in six months.
The contest initially turned on the intoxicating mix of Motherwell’s physicality and Aberdeen’s fecklessness. The recipe helped serve up two goals inside three minutes midway through the first period.
McInnes had legitimate grumbles over Richard Tait intentionally arming the ball to bring it under control down the left before squaring for Main to pounce from close in. Aberdeen had a sorry part to play in this opener with Arnason mistakenly sending a header behind him under pressure from Bowman, before Dominic Ball pulled up on Tait to thrust up his hand in demand for the foul referee Kevin Clancy and his goalline assistant missed.
The second goal in the 23rd minute also had its origins in Bowman’s bullying, bringing an error-strewn response after a high ball had made its way towards the edge of the Aberdeen penalty area, this time courtesy of a Rose header powered forward.
First, captain-for-the-day Scott McKenna sliced a clearance. That allowed Bowman to bundle Arnason to the ground for a weak shooting opportunity Lewis allowed to bounce off his chest. To compound that, the Aberdeen keeper was slow to scramble back as the striker clipped in a second hardly-travelling effort from the loose ball.
McInnes’ side had opportunities either side of the interval. Stevie May was criminally wasteful in screwing a shot wide just before it. Without the suspended trio of club captain Graeme Shinnie, Kenny McLean and Shay Logan, and with injury concerns afflicting Gary Mackay-Steven and Niall McGinn allowing them only to appear from the bench, the Pittodrie manager admitted he was unable to field a side that were equal to the task.
“I expected more [even if] there is concern when you have to make so many changes,” he said. “I thought we settled into it okay. Nothing more. We bedded our way in without really showing the aggression and imposing ourselves. We dealt with their longer ball up in that opening period just as we have done when we have beaten Motherwell in the past, but the first time that we don’t deal with it, they get out. Arnason should do better off the goalkeeper’s kick. Ball should be in a better position to deal with the next one.
“It’s a handball. I think the referee is more responsible for that one. Tait knocks it on with his arm into his path. While Dominic should not stop, he is never going to recover that situation. Between five officials, you’d think they might be able to get that right. Where I’m disappointed with my team is that there has been a pattern this season where we have lost the first goal and quickly lost another one.
“That, for me, is down to mental focus and concentration. Resetting yourself and not letting a poor situation become an even worse situation. There has been individual mistakes for the first two goals and officials have been part of it. The level of performance was nowhere near good enough and the plaudits go to Motherwell as they deservedly got into the final.”