Phil McGhee at Fir Park
A stunning goal from captain Carl McHugh four minutes from time sent Motherwell back on the road to Hampden with a hard fought win over Hearts in the William Hill Scottish Cup quarter final.
After building on a seventh minute goal from Curtis Main to command the first half, ‘Well’s chances of claiming a fourth Cup visit to Hampden this season, looked to be disappearing as Hearts came into the game from the start of the second half drawing level through a Kyle Lafferty penalty.
But having withstood some immense pressure from the Edinburgh side, Stephen Robinson’s men regained their composure to earn their semi-final spot with a stunning late winner.
The Fir Park men started and finished the more offensive, although with both team’s yet to concede a cup goal, a tight defensive game was anticipated.
However, the Hearts’ goal was breached after only three minutes when Jon McLaughlin failed to secure a low cross from Richard Tait as the ball appeared to roll from his hand Chris Cadden poked the ball under the ‘keeper for what seemed an opening goal. Debatably referee Andrew Dallas curtailed the celebrations indicating that the ball had been kicked from the keeper’s hand.
The keeper’s luck only lasted another five until ‘Well we’re gifted the opener.
In truth as Craig Tanner’s poor corner trundled along the line Ross Callaghan left it for his keeper. Comically the ball rebounded from McLaughlin’s boot, off the post back along the line for Curtis Main to make sure it crossed the line and give the Fir Park side the perfect start.
From a tight angle Kyle Lafferty forced the first and only save from Trevor Carson. For the remainder of the half, though, Motherwell had the edge of what was a physical and bruising encounter.
Chances were few but from Cadden’s is swinging free kick McLaughlin bravely smothered the ball at Main’s feet. The ‘Well striker then headed the ball down into Tanner’s path but he slashed his shot high over the bar.
At this stage Hearts were defending deeply, desperate not to lose a second goal but that changed at the break when the Tynecastle side emerged for the second half on the front foot.
Suddenly the home box was swamped and when Cedric Kipre’s rash challenge caught the inrushing Stephen Naismith, Lafferty slammed home the resultant penalty to lift the huge Hearts’ following behind Carson’s goal.
And the Hearts’ fans could have been celebrating a second before the hour mark as Lafferty twice came close. Firstly, the Northern Ireland striker swept the ball past Carson only to watch it rebound from the post. Then in the 58th minute he was again denied this time by an outstanding save. Lafferty’s glancing header looked to be bouncing inside the post until Carson leapt low and full stretch to brilliantly palm the ball round the post.
That save not only silenced the Hearts fans but helped steady the Fir Park men who gradually regained their stride.
Indeed the best football of the game followed as both teams enjoyed a bit of possession in an attempt to find a winner.
Motherwell looked the more likely and Ryan Bowman’s immediate contribution was a low ball across the goal which was cleared only a far as Cadden whose volley was on target until John Souttar’s lunge deflected the ball wide.
Carson was then tested with a long range drive from David Milinkovic as the Edinburgh pushed to end the tie.
However, in the final ten minutes the action was largely around the visitor’s goal. Bowman’s effort from the corner of the box took a deflection but McLaughlin comfortably held the ball.
The ‘keeper was well protected and five minutes from time Kipre nodded Tanner’s free kick back across the box where Charles Dunne’s acrobatic effort sent the ball goalwards only to see it blocked in a packed box six yard box.
A minute later, though, ‘Well found a way through with a goal worthy of winning any cup tie. Elliot Frear whipped in a cross and when Christophe Berra headed the ball out of the box the danger appeared over.
However, Carl McHugh thought otherwise and from 28 yards his right foot sent a wonderful volley into the top corner despite McLaughlin’s brave attempt to push the ball over his cross bar.