Motherwell’s Scottish Cup run came to a disappointing end as St Mirren eventually progressed to the quarter-finals on penalties.
It was a dramatic and exciting cup tie as ‘Well came storming back from 4-1 down at the interval to dominate the second half and extra-time, before frustratingly failing three times from the spot in the penalty shootout.
In truth, though, the Fir Park men were second best all over the pitch as Saints clinically punished them with four first half goals.
Liam Polworth’s equaliser midway through the first half brought some false hope as the visitors looked to have booked their spot in the last eight.
However, when Tony Watt grabbed a second 11 minutes into the second half, ‘Well’s faint hopes were raised.
Nobody, though, could have envisaged the fightback which followed, as goals from Rolando Aarons and Allan Campbell drew the sides level, with Motherwell pushing for a winner before the game moved into extra time and penalties.
Motherwell might have argued that on their second half onslaught they deserved a winner in regulation time. But ultimately three tame penalty attempts cost them a place in the last eight.
The Fir Park pitch had recovered well from Storm Dennis but neither Gallagher or Christopher Long were fit enough to participate in this fifth round replay.
That meant Bevis Mugabi partnering Peter Hartley in the centre of defence and Tony Watt making his home debut up front.
Ross MacIver was also given a start alongside the former Celtic striker, as Stephen Robinson searched for an attacking combination that would turn chances into much needed goals. Mark O’Hara, the goal hero in Paisley, had to make way for a fully fit Allan Campbell.
After Saturday’s postponement both teams were eager to kill off this tie as quickly as possible.
To that end, Saints with a crucial relegation encounter on Friday, started the game more positively pushing towards Mark Gillespie’s goal from the start.
However, the first goal threat came at the visitor’s end. Liam Polworth’s inswinging corner was nodded on by MacIver forcing Vaclav Hladky to palm the ball over his bar. The Saints’ ‘keeper was then tested with a couple of crosses but Hladky, on a wet surface firmly held the ball.
Motherwell appeared to be about to take the initiative when, after 14 minutes, Saints fired home the opening goal.
The ball was worked to Ilkay Durmas wide on the left and when he whipped a cross towards the six yard box, Jon Obika reacted quickest to steer the ball inside Gillespie’s right hand post and put the visitors in front.
That unsettled the Fir Park players and the home fans shared their frustrations in the 23rd minute when Jamie McGrath raced through unchallenged but his tame finish was easy for Gillespie to beat away.
However, three minutes later the home fans were celebrating as ‘Well equalised. Polworth again whipped a corner into the six yard box and when Conor McCarthy returned the ball to him the former Inverness man stepped inside the advancing defender before drilling his shot through a packed defence and into the net.
It was shaping up to be a keenly contested cup tie before Saints hit the home side with a quick double.
And in both cases the ‘Well defending could have been better.
After 31 minutes, Cammy MacPherson’s long free kick drifted over the static home defenders, Obika was left to stroke the ball low past Gillespie and in off the ‘keeper’s left-hand post to regain the lead.
Within 90 seconds Saints had stretched their lead to 3-1. Again the Fir Park defenders were slow to challenge Sam Foley as he strode through the centre of the box. Gillespie did well to block his shot from 12 yards but unlucky to see the ball cannon off Hartley and roll into an empty net.
It might have been a fourth for the Buddies five minutes later but for a brilliant one-handed save from Gillespie to deny Jamie McGrath as Saints threatened to run riot against a beleaguered looking ‘Well.
Two minutes from the break Foley did make it four when he collected Hartley’s poor clearance before drilling a low shot beyond a helpless Gillespie.
With the Saints fans in dreamland some of the Fir Park faithful, fearing a nightmare, headed for the exit before the first half was even over.
To round off a miserable first half, Mugabi then limped off to be replaced by Mark O’Hara.
In an attempt to produce the greatest comeback since the memorable one against Hibs in 2010, Hartley stayed indoors at the interval with Richard Tait coming on to form a back three along with Liam Donnelly and Jake Carroll.
Within seven minutes of his arrival Tait popped the ball into the box for MacIver to hook his shot just wide of the post.
Five minutes later, though ‘Well reduced the leeway. Watt wriggled his way through a packed box before firing his shot low past Hladky to make it 4-2.
Gillespie palmed away MacPherson’s 25 yard drive before ‘Well made their last substitution, Jermaine Hylton replacing Liam Grimshaw. Effectively that was Gillespie’s last involvement as ‘Well dominated the remainder of the half.
Hylton’s trickery on the left was immediate and his cross to the back post after 68 minutes found Campbell. As he forced the ball back across the goal the ball rebounded from the foot of the post before Hladky prevented a follow up drifting under his bar.
With 20 minutes remaining there was a renewed sense of optimism among the ‘Well support as the Steelmen laid siege on the home goal.
And two minutes later that was increased further as Rolando Aarons’ long and low cross from the right eluded everyone including Hladky to sneak inside the ‘keeper’s post to make it 4-3.
Unbelievably, in a flash it was 4-4. Campbell raced into the box and from an angle his driven shot took a deflection to carry the ball over the ‘keeper and under his bar to make it all level with 16 minutes left for either team to win the tie.
The impetus had now shifted ‘Well’s waym with the 918 Buddies’ fans totally shellshocked.
It was all ‘Well until the end of the 90 and Campbell thought he had come up with the winner when he latched on to MacIver’s cut-back but his low driven shot was blocked in a packed six-yard area.
And so, after a two minute breather, this amazing cup tie headed for 30 minutes of extra time.
Nine minutes into the extra period Hylton worked his way along the line before shooting with the outside of his boot and leaving Hladky relieved to scoop the ball behind.
With the luxury of a fourth substitute in extra time, ‘Well re-energised their firepower with Christy Manzinga coming on for MacIver.
Facing their favoured Davie Cooper stand for the final 15 minutes there was still a sense that Motherwell would snatch the winning goal to complete another memorable fightback before the penalty shoot-out.
However, down to 10 men for the last few minutes when Carroll limped off, Donnelly had to head the ball off the goal-line to leave the sides level at 4-4 after an exhilarating 120 minutes.
As both sets of leg weary players raised themselves for a dramatic penalty shoot-out in front of the Cooper Stand there were as many missed as converted. Ultimately, Aarons and Polworth netted but Donnelly, Watt and Hylton all failed from the spot, as ‘Well’s comeback and cup run came to a disappointing end.