A terrific display from the Under 20s came close to producing an IRN-BRU Cup shock against League One side Airdrie, but they came up just short in a 1-2 defeat.
A goal either side of the interval sent the visitor’s on their way to the next round, however, a fabulous strike from Dylan Mackin set up a terrific last half hour.
Despite falling just short, the young ‘Well’s efforts were recognised with a standing ovation from the home fans in the 1,007 crowd at the final whistle.
After taking five minutes to find their feet against their more senior opponents ‘Well had the first crack at goal, Thomas Fry’s low twenty-yard drive forcing Rohan Ferguson to throw himself low to his left and push the ball round his post.
Airdrie’s replied with a long drive from Andy Ryan which produced a firm first save from Peter Morrison.
As the young Fir Parkers gained in confidence Jack McMillan burst towards the goal line before crossing into a packed box but Ferguson cut out the danger. David Turnbull then had a 25-yard drive which whizzed over the bar.
Stephen Craigan’s boys were content in possession as they probed for gaps in the visitor’s defence that was well marshalled by former Fir Park favourite Marc Fitzpatrick.
But it was the home ‘keeper who was tested when he firmly held a curling shot from Adam Brown.
After receiving treatment for a head wound Morrison then produced a couple of reflex saves to deny the Diamonds an opening goal.
In the 21st minute the ‘keeper rose smartly to palm Scott Stewart’s header over his bar. That stop was surpassed seven minutes later Joe Gorman’s effort took a deflection inside the six yard box and as the ball was heading just under the bar, Morrison reacted superbly to beat the ball away.
Ryan Hastie’s speed and footwork earned him an opening at the edge of the opposite box and his left foot drive across the goal forced a good save from Ferguson who pushed the ball beyond the inrushing Mackin.
Just before the half-time whistle Hastie had possession in a similar position but literally lost his boot and footing.
It proved to be a costly slip as Airdrie immediately raced to the other end. And when Ryan rolled the ball back to Iain Russell on the 18yard line he calmly stroked it low inside Morrison’s right hand post.
Before the young ‘Well team could reply after the break Airdrie had snatched a second when Ryan had time in the middle of the box to chest the ball down before driving low and hard past Morrison.
To their credit the young Steelmen then showed great strength of character.
And after firing a shot narrowly over Mackin pulled one back in the 53rd. Darting between Airdrie’s central defenders, the young ‘Well striker hammered an unstoppable drive high into the net.
That restored confidence and twice within a couple of minutes the home side came close to producing an equaliser.
Firstly, from the corner of the box, Thomas Fry curled the ball wide of Ferguson’s post before the ‘keeper firmly held Ross MacLean’s drive at the end of a terrific run.
The ‘Well fans in the Phil O’Donnell stand thought that Luke Watt had rattled home the equaliser when the ball crashed high into the netting, only to realise that it was on the outside of the post.
Morrison then produced a couple of solid stops to keep the deficit to one.
Twenty minutes from time only a terrific save from Ferguson denied ‘Well the equaliser. Substitute Dylan Falconer turned 10 yards from goal before unleashing a thumping drive which the ‘keeper matched with an outstretched hand.
The First Division side had another let-off ten minutes later when Luke Watt was tripped as he burst into the box but referee Mike Taylor waved aside genuine appeals for a penalty.
It took a amazing save from Morrison to deny Ryan, who looked certain to slam Russell’s cross home from four yards until the ‘Well stopper spread himself to brilliantly block.
That kept the game and the fans on an edge until the final whistle but despite pressing the game towards the visitor’s box until the end, the young ‘Well couldn’t find an equaliser and a crack at extra-time their performance deserved.
Motherwell U20s: Morrison; McMillan, Armstrong, Maguire, Watt; Campbell, MacLean (J.Moore – 87mins), Turnbull (Scott – 79mins), Hastie (Falconer – 65mins), Fry; Mackin
Subs: Stevenson, Livingstone