Andy Harrow looks back on Motherwell’s comfortable victory over Aberdeen in Saturday’s Scottish Cup semi-final.
Motherwell are so much better than their league position suggests
If it wasn’t for a disastrous December - when Stephen Robinson’s injury-ravaged men lost six out of seven fixtures, picking up only one point - Well would surely have made a better fist of a top six challenge. Instead, they had too much ground to make up, so will make do with seventh, at best, this season. Despite this, there is much to appreciate about a side who played perfectly to their strengths against Aberdeen. Cedric Kipre has been excellent throughout the season and has been ably supported by Tom Aldred, Charles Dunne and Peter Hartley at various stages. Their midfield perhaps lacks some creativity but, on their day, are capable of dominating the central area - as they did at Hampden on Saturday - while, in Ryan Bowman and Curtis Main, they have two strikers defenders must loathe playing against. Not only do they combine well, but they offer a thrilling mix of industry, physical strength and, in Main’s case especially, a great deal of talent.
Despite the 24 point difference between them in the league, Motherwell were head-and-shoulders above their opponents in the semi-final. They shouldn’t be under-estimated in the final.
Injuries and suspensions took their toll on Aberdeen
The question many posed before the semi-final was whether Aberdeen could cope without the loss of suspended trio Kenny McLean, Shay Logan and captain Graeme Shinnie. The answer was an emphatic no. Dominic Ball proved to be a disastrous replacement for Logan, letting Richard Tait sneak in behind him to set up the first goal and failing to offer the attacking outlet the Don’s usual full-back provides. In the middle of the park, Anthony O’Conner and Chidiebere Nwakali failed to match the physical power and energy of Liam Grimshaw and Allan Campbell in Motherwell’s engine room. While McLean and Shinnie have been inconsistent this season, they would have offered McInnes’ side with both an improved psychical presence and a modicum of control.
Aberdeen were also disadvantaged by the recent injuries to wide-men, Gary Mackay-Steven and Niall McGinn. Greg Stewart was one of the Dons’ best players against Well, but there’s no doubt McInnes’ men would have benefited from the pace and width brought by both wingers. Instead, they struggled in the first half to make any use of the space in behind Motherwell’s wing backs and, by the time both came on, the game was all but over.
Curtis is the Main man
Curtis Main had big shoes to fill when he walked through the front door at Motherwell for the first time. After all, he’d been brought in by Robinson to replace Louis Moult, who’d been the club’s talisman. If Main felt any pressure to replicate Moult’s achievements, it hasn’t showed. The forward, who came via Portsmouth, had long been admired by Robinson and it was soon clear to see why. Like Moult before him, he fits perfectly into Motherwell’s system and quickly built a rapport with Ryan Bowman. He’s not only a physical threat, but he’s an intelligent centre forward with a deft touch. What’s more, he scores important goals. He brought Hearts’ run of clean sheets to an end soon after joining and bagged a goal against the same opposition in the quarter-final of the Scottish Cup. He was sensational against Celtic in a 2-2 draw in March and was again at Hampden on Saturday, hassling and harrying the Aberdeen defence throughout and scoring with two excellent, opportunistic, finishes.
Another performance like that in the final in May and he’ll cement his reputation further.
Is this the last significant moment of McInnes’ Aberdeen?
It’s difficult to see where Aberdeen and Derek McInnes go from here. For all the successes in recent seasons - the League Cup victory, the successive second-placed finishes - there was a sense of something final about the meek surrender to Motherwell at Hampden.
The reserves of goodwill McInnes built up with the Dons support seems to have dissipated over recent months, with each defeat to a close rival further depleting the levels. A Scottish Cup win this season looked like the best chance McInnes would have to re-up the relationship and prove that the club aren’t in something of a holding pattern. Instead, the defeat seemed frustratingly familiar to the massed ranks of the Red Army, with Aberdeen bested both tactically and physically. It’s not the first time under McInnes that Aberdeen have left Hampden without showing anything near their potential.
The manager, himself, might wonder if it’s just not meant to be. His team can still finish second in the league - which would still be a significant achievement - but with the Scottish Cup held so dearly in Aberdeen supporters’ minds, he might wonder if it’s enough anymore.
Motherwell will prove a real test to Celtic or Rangers
Who knows if the Rangers or Celtic players watched the first semi-final, but if they did they’ll know whoever gets through tomorrow will have a real fight on their hands to lift the trophy. They would probably have known that already, of course. Motherwell have taken points off both halves of the Old Firm this season and have done so playing their distinctive up-and-at-them style.
Having appeared in the League Cup final earlier in the season, and following their demolition of Aberdeen, there’s no chance Robinson’s men will be over-awed by another appearance at Hampden in May. Indeed, you get the sense that they relish the opportunity to test themselves against the best in the division. A brilliant final awaits.