Motherwell were spot on against local rivals Hamilton Accies as three converted penalties helped the Steelmen to a 3-2 win.
The home side went ahead after twelve minutes but spot kicks from McHugh, Erwin and Carswell put the Fir Parkers in a commanding position.
Accies had a penalty of their own in the closing stages but it wasn’t enough as Motherwell held out for the victory.
Under 20s boss Jonatan Johansson was forced into five changes from Monday’s draw with Dunfermline. Steven Saunders, Ross Kellock, Frazer Johnstone, Adam Asghar and Dom Thomas all dropped out. They were replaced by Adam Cummins, Zaine-Francis-Angol, Jack Leitch, Stuart Carswell and Chris Humphrey.
Accies midfielder Craig Watson had the game’s first shot after nine minutes, but he dragged his effort well wide of the post. It was a warning the young Steelmen side failed to heed though as the same player opened the scoring just two minutes later.
A flowing move eventually led to Gary Fraser collecting the ball deep inside the ‘Well box. He worked a yard of space for himself before firing a low effort that cannoned off Euan Murray and fell fortuitously at the feet of the midfielder who stroked it home from five yards out.
The ‘home’ side took control and enjoyed long spells of possession. Murray had to look smart to block McShane, who had made a near post run, before Andy Ryan missed a glorious chance at the back post after an excellent cross from the right.
Ryan and Gary Fraser both had a couple of long-range efforts as Alex Neil’s men looked to exert their authority and put the game to bed.
Very much against the run of play, Motherwell got themselves level five minutes before the break.
Accies defender Ryan Finnie left a pass-back shot, allowing Lee Erwin to nip in ahead of Chris Truesdale who tripped him. Referee Craig Napier pointed to the spot but. The ball was going far enough away from goal to not warrant a red card, but the youngster was cautioned instead.
Bob McHugh stepped up and coolly slotted the ball into the net, sending the despairing keeper the wrong way.
Astonishingly, Motherwell should have had another spot kick just minutes later. An awkward bouncing ball had Ali El Zubadi and Truesdale on a collision course, with McHugh close behind.
The defender eventually hooked it clear, but not before Truesdale wiped out McHugh a yard inside the area. Neither the referee, nor his assistant Steven Strang, spotted it and the half ended all square.
Jonatan Johansson’s words of wisdom at the break must have hit a nerve as the Claret and Amber men came out fired up in the second.
Erwin almost put his side ahead inside the opening 90 seconds, but his low shot was well blocked by the feet of the well-placed Truesdale.
But within two minutes, the visitors were ahead.
Bob McHugh’s hooked cross was well controlled by McCafferty but as he turned, Finnie tugged his shirt in full view of the official. It was penalty number two, and Lee Erwin was the man to hit it, slamming it hard into the bottom left corner.
The tails were up and McHugh was denied a brace when his lot shot was tipped wide by Truesdale and the keeper again looked smart to block from McCafferty, after a neat passing move between Leitch, Francis-Angol and the pint-sized winger.
Just after the hour, the referee awarded Motherwell their third penalty of the afternoon. A fantastic fifty-yard pass by Leitch, and an equally impressive first-touch by Erwin, had the big striker in on goal. As he was about to pull the trigger, the backtracking Lee Kilday clipped his ankles.
Stuart Carswell volunteered to take the kick and he calmly tucked it home, just right of centre, with Truesdale again going the wrong way.
The returning Chris Humphrey put in an excellent shift all afternoon and he fancied a goal himself.
Unusually, the Jamaican winger was deployed down the left flank for much of the half and, after collecting from a ‘Well counter-attack, his cut in and shot was again stopped by Truesdale.
McHugh fired a curling effort straight at the keeper and went so close to connecting to a Francis-Angol cutback as the Steelmen looked to kill the match.
However, it was Accies who would haul themselves back into things with a penalty of their own. A pass from the right flank found Fraser but the sliding Murray, who was trying to make the block, interrupted his attempted shot at the expense of a spot kick.
Fraser dusted himself down and fired it down the middle, to make the last ten minutes more intense than it perhaps needed to be.
Accies came so close to leveling but found Ross Stewart in inspired form. He tipped a dipping Darren Lyon effort onto the bar and out for a corner before turning round a goal-bound Ali Crawford free-kick.
Johansson’s men played out the last few minutes into the corner and held out for just their fifth win in eighteen matches, lifting them above Ross County into thirteenth.
The youths have two upcoming matches this week – Dundee United away on Monday night then St Mirren at Fir Park on Thursday night.
Motherwell: Stewart, Neill, Francis-Angol, Cummins, Murray, Carswell, Humphrey, Erwin, McHugh, Leitch, McCafferty
Subs Not Used: Kellock, Thomas, Shirkie, Higgins
Goals: McHugh (pen 40), Erwin (pen 47), Carswell (pen 62)
Booked: Carswell, Murray, Stewart, Leitch