A battling, determined Motherwell side fell narrowly short of glory in the Scottish Cup, losing 2-0 against Celtic at Hampden.
After falling behind to two top quality strikes from Callum McGregor and Olivier Ntcham in the opening 25 minutes, the Steelmen showed great spirit, pressing the game in the second half and being extremely unlucky not to be rewarded by at least one goal for their efforts.
Motherwell’s outstanding season and amazing run in the cups, which began at Hampden in mid-July, ended at the National Stadium 10 months later. The players, who already written themselves into the history books with two cup final appearances in one season, fell just short of becoming legends by adding their names to the short list of Motherwell Scottish Cup winners.
Optimism around the club and town were well founded given the Fir Parker’s impressive cup record this season. However, for a second time, ‘Well found Celtic an unsurmountable hurdle in the final.
In a bright positive start, the Steelmen carved out the first couple of half chances. After two minutes a slick move down the right wing involving Liam Grimshaw and Chris Cadden resulted in Curtis Main outmuscling Kris Ajer, but, as the ball was played across the edge of the box the chance was lost.
A couple of minutes later, Ryan Bowman’s half volley from 8 yards was deflected into Main’s path, but the striker couldn’t get enough purchase on the ball to direct it towards Craig Gordon’s goal.
In the 11th minute and out of nothing, the Parkhead men took the lead. Tom Alred’s header cleared the box but only as far as McGregor, who took the ball in his stride before unleashing a terrific drive high past Trevor Carson and into the top corner to silence the ‘Well fans behind that goal.
That gave Celtic the iniative and after 25 minutes they produced another clinical finish to go two ahead. Moussa Dembele was being closely guarded at the edge of the box but when he rolled the ball back to Olivier Ntcham the midfielder drilled a shot through a packed box and into the corner to put Celtic firmly in the driving seat.
To their credit, ‘Well’s response was immediate with Cadden’s angled shot forcing a save from Gordon at his near post. Two minutes later, the Fir Park men passed up their best chance of the first half.
Bowman’s clever back heel at the edge of the box set up the ball perfectly for Main, but attempting to curl the ball into the top corner, he sent his shot over the bar.
‘Well fans were on their feet within minutes of the restart as ‘Well came close to pulling a goal back. Another slick move down the right saw Cadden sending Grimshaw in behind the Celt’s defence. His cut back found Main, who turned a fired a shot on target until Gordon leapt to direct the ball over the bar.
With Cadden more central to support the front two, ‘Well looked more like themselves. Allan Campbell, who continually held his ground against the more experienced Celtic midfield, wriggled his way across the box before curling his shot into Gordon’s arms.
After 55 minutes, and with a sense that they might be getting a hold of the game, Stephen Robinson changed his midfield formation sending on Gael Bigirimana for Carl McHugh.
The substitute then engineered a number of openings as ‘Well looked for a goal that their second half performance merited.
In the 62nd minute, Bowman’s pass found Main on the left and his attempt to get a return ball in front of goal was only denied as Mikael Lustig cleared the ball over his own bar.
From Bigirimana’s corner, the ball was cleared as far as Cadden and from 18 yards his crisp drive was well saved by Gordon.
Motherwell tried to maintain the pressure on the Gordon’s goal and Bigirimana’s drive was defelcted wide before Aldred’s header was held under the bar by the Celtic ‘keeper.
At the other end, Carson was largely idle until the 70th minute when he produced a terrific double save. Dembele seemed certain to bullet home his header at the back post but Carson reacted tremendously to claw the ball away and then get back to his feet to block the striker’s second attempt with his feet.
That allowed Motherwell to believe that a goal and a remarkable fightback was still on the cards. And they came agonizingly close to that goal 20 minutes from time.
Cadden’s burst through the centre of Celtic back four was abruptly ended when Dedryck Boyata hauled him back just outside the box. While the ‘Well players argued for a penalty, Bigirimana remained focused only to watch his measured free kick bend the ball beyond the diving Gordon and off the junction of the keeper’s cross bar and post.
A goal then would have set up a a grandstand finish as ‘Well came again within inches of scoring when Cadden nodded Richard Tait’s ball across the face of an open goal only to find Elliot Frear just failing to get a touch.
Disappointed at the final whistle, the players raised themselves from the Hampden turf to acknowledge the ovation from the huge Motherwell support who remained until after the final whistle to thank their side for a season which will be etched into the memory of the fans.