Motherwell hustled Aberdeen out of the Scottish Cup semi-final to reach their second final of the season.
Curtis Main and Ryan Bowman scored twice in two minutes in the first-half as Motherwell established their authority.
Aberdeen toiled, even as manager Derek McInnes sent on an array of attacking substitutes.
Main added a third after the break with a fine finish following a Kari Arnason mistake at the back.
Motherwell reached their first Scottish Cup final since 2011 with the victory, having also knocked Aberdeen out of this season’s League Cup on their way to losing to Celtic in the final.
It was a measure of Aberdeen’s grim afternoon at Hampden that their first shot on target – from Adam Rooney – did not come until the 62nd minute. They committed critical errors in defence, but Stephen Robinson’s side were alert and ruthless enough to take full advantage.
If Motherwell supporters need a new song to sign, how about ‘Here’s to you Mr Robinson’? Their manager certainly deserves some recognition, having steered the team to a second final in five months.
The foundation for that achievement was a steely performance in which they capitalised ruthlessly on opportunities. Their performance was outstanding in many ways.
Latterly, having pulled into a two-goal lead, they built a solid wall that Aberdeen could not breach, before hammering the final nail in Aberdeen’s coffin as Main – a powerful, relentless figure up front – completed the scoring.
Yet McInnes’ side had started brightly enough, although they failed to overly threaten the Motherwell goal in what was more of a battle than a football match early on.
However, the decisive period of the match emerged suddenly, as Motherwell swiftly and decisively took control.
A long ball caused problems for the Aberdeen defence, with Motherwell wing-back Richard Tait stealing in behind Dominic Ball on the left near the penalty box.
Ball paused, claiming for a foul after the ball struck Tait on the upper arm, and Motherwell took advantage of the defender’s decision to stop and turn towards the referee Kevin Clancy. Tait escaped then squared for Main, who tapped home from close range.
As if that moment was not bad enough, Aberdeen’s defence was again breached all too easily just two minutes later. Captain Scott McKenna failed to deal with a header, slicing a clearance back towards his own goal.
Bowman was alert and powerful, hustling past Arnason before seeing his shot pushed away by Aberdeen goalkeeper Joe Lewis. Bowman was first to react again, though, and turned home the rebound.
The Dons tried to respond, but could not get their creative players involved enough, with Motherwell happy to stand firm at the back whenever probed.
They still carried a threat in attack, though, and Bowman looked likely to add a third on the break after superb link up play between Main and Allan Campbell. At the vital moment, the striker handled and was punished.
Aberdeen had a chance to regroup when midfielder Chidiebere Nwakali went over his ankle and had to be replaced. McInnes brought on winger Gary MacKay-Steven, to line-up with four attackers on the field, and he almost made an immediate impact.
Mackay-Steven turned his marker adroitly then played in Stevie May, but the striker’s angled effort flashed across goal and wide. It seemed exactly the type of chance that Motherwell would have taken.
In the second half, McInnes switched to a back three – mirroring Motherwell’s formation – and brought on another forward in winger Niall McGinn.
The Northern Irish international released Rooney but his powerful shot was parried by Motherwell goalkeeper Trevor Carson in what was Aberdeen’s first effort on target.
The pressure began to build, but Motherwell were defensively sound and secured their victory with another impressive execution after an Aberdeen error.
On the halfway line, Arnason played the ball straight off Main, who raced clear. He carried the ball to the edge of Aberdeen’s penalty area then remained calm enough to expertly lift a shot over the advancing Lewis and into the net.
Main’s goals were significant, but so too was his overall performance – full of energy, bustle, menace and might. They were qualities that, in fact, defined Motherwell as a whole.
It was an excellent display by Robinson’s hard-working side, and a memorable occasion for their fans as they secured a return trip to Hampden at the end of May.