Motherwell put in a fighting performance against Hearts in the quarter-final of the Betfred Cup but were stung by a late, late show.
Curtis Main and Ryan Bowman scored for the Steelmen but came unstuck as Steven MacLean, Peter Haring, Olly Lee and Steven Naismith netted for the Jam Tarts.
Motherwell started with ferocious intent, harassing their opponents and snapping into challenges with an intensity that was the hallmark of their cup performances last campaign.
They got their reward with just 10 minutes on the clock. Bigirimana’s drilled free-kick from left to right was met by the head of McHugh at the back stick. But his ball across goal was handballed by Dunne, leaving Willie Collum with no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
After a short spell out the team injured, it fell to Main to mark his return to the team by sending Zlamal the wrong way with an assured penalty to fire the Steelmen into the lead.
The game roared from end to end, as both sides flew through the midfield at pace to build attacks.
Hearts had the next biggest chance to get on the scoresheet on the half hour mark. Smith’s dangerous low cross from the right fizzed across goal, but MacLean’s poked effort at the near post spun over.
Motherwell immediately went up the other end. Main found room inside the box wide on the left, deciding to shoot instead of squaring to Bowman. That sent the goalkeeper sprawling and he just clawed it away, before Bowman went down after claiming to be pushed in the back as he tried to nod home the second.
It would be a concentration lapse that would cause the equaliser. Bigirimana tried to play his way out in his own box and surrendered the ball, allowing Smith the chance to cross.
Djoum met the header at the left post, nodding it back across goal for MacLean to steer home the equaliser from close range.
Motherwell were seeing plenty of the ball but the hosts were looking deadly on the counter, pounding the area with cross balls for the strikers to get on the end of. Naismith was the next beneficiary as the first half wore to a close, his header from close range sailing thankfully over the crossbar.
Spurred on again, the visitors raced up the other end and Cadden put a ball in from the right for Main, who just steered his header past the post.
After a pause for breath, the second half got off in similar fashion, with Hearts having a succession of headed chances and Motherwell looking to press their opponents off the ball high up the pitch to engineer an opportunity.
The resistance would finally break. After being bombarded with cross balls, Souttar’s volleyed drive across goal from right to left was met by Haring at the back post to slide in Hearts’ second.
Motherwell threw on Frear and Johnson as they tried to fight their way back into the game, effectively playing a front four alongside Main and Bowman.
Then, in a moment of magic, Stephen Robinson’s men found the leveller.
Chasing the ball into the channel, Bowman unleashed a spectacular half volley from 25 yards which dipped into the far left corner of the net to spark wild scenes in the away end.
As the Steelmen pushed and pushed for the winner, the sucker punch came with two minutes to spare. Another cross from the right was met by the free Olly Lee to steer the ball into the left side of the net.
Throwing everything forward Motherwell had a succession of corners as Hearts desperately clung onto the lead but Naismith would then net on the counter to put the game beyond doubt.