Saturday marked 115 years to the day since the birth of Aberdeen FC but the Scottish Cup semi-final against Motherwell will not go down as a highlight in the club’s history.
Instead, this became a Hampden horror show as Aberdeen capitulated thanks to some dreadful defending on the biggest day of their season.
Motherwell richly deserved their 3-0 win with a double from man-of-the-match Curtis Main and a Ryan Bowman strike ensuring Stephen Robinson’s men progressed to a second cup final of the season.
The Dons, missing three key performers through suspension, toiled throughout and completely failed to match Motherwell’s hunger, physicality and tenacity.
They also played a major part in their downfall with some alarming errors for all three goals.
Much has been made of Aberdeen’s inability to produce in the bigger matches this season – and manager Derek McInnes acknowledged his side’s weak mentality after an abject showing when few, if any, Dons players merited pass marks.
This was the second time Well have sent the Dons crashing out of cup competition this season, with the Lanarkshire side dismantling the Dons by the same margin in the League Cup in September.
The concern for McInnes and the Red Army – 12,000 of whom were at the national stadium for the lunchtime kick-off – will be the impact this defeat has on their quest to finish best of the rest in the Premiership as Celtic close in on the title.
One thing is certain – several of the players who started on Saturday won’t be at Pittodrie next season.
With captain Graeme Shinnie, Kenny McLean and Shay Logan absent due to suspension, McInnes admitted he spent much time deliberating over his starting line-up. He opted for Adam Rooney, Dominic Ball and Chidi Nwakali as replacements with 21-year-old Scott McKenna donning the armband.
The opening exchanges were uneventful but the game suddenly came to life as the Steelmen took the lead in controversial circumstances when referee Kevin Clancy failed to spot Motherwell captain Richard Tait handled as he advanced into the area. Ball inexplicably opted to stand claiming for a free kick, while Tait ran on unopposed and cut the ball back for Main to prod home.
If the first Motherwell goal was unfortunate, the concession of the second moments later was shambolic.
Another long pass forward from Motherwell prompted panic in the Dons rearguard, with McKenna slicing his clearance towards his own goal where Bowman outmuscled Kari Arnason.
Joe Lewis could not hold the Motherwell attacker’s first attempt and Bowman made no mistake at the second time of asking with the ball trickling into the net in agonising fashion for the disjointed Dons.
The Reds were reeling and Motherwell pressed for a third with Lewis twice called upon to prevent Bowman giving the Steelmen an unassailable advantage.
The Aberdeen assignment became tougher two minutes before the break when Nwakali’s afternoon ended prematurely when he landed awkwardly on his ankle and was replaced by Gary Mackay-Steven. The substitute made an immediate impression, creating a chance for Stevie May with an incisive pass but the former St Johnstone player dragged his effort wide when he should have at least hit the target.
A horrific first half for the Dons with far better required after the break.
Mackay-Steven injected some much-needed width but the Dons struggled to penetrate a watertight Motherwell defence, while the industrious Bowman and Main were a constant nuisance. With time running out, McInnes opted to go three at the back by bringing on Niall McGinn for Ball, who had a torrid afternoon.
The Northern Ireland international immediately carved out a chance as Aberdeen finally registered their first shot on target with 62 minutes on the clock with Rooney’s powerful drive parried wide by Trevor Carson. But just as Aberdeen looked capable of getting back into the game, they were caught by another defensive howler.
This time Arnason at fault as his attempt at clearing Andrew Rose’s searching pass cannoned off Main. The Motherwell attacker breezed past the Icelandic international to collect the loose ball before calmly stroking the ball past Lewis to kill off the game.
There was no way back from that.
MOTHERWELL (3-5-2) – Carson 7, Tait 8, Grimshaw 7 (MacLean 88), Cadden 7, Main 8 (Newell 86), Bowman 8 (Ciftci 79), Rose 7, Dunne 7, Aldred 7, Kipre 7, Campbell 7. Subs not used – Griffiths, Bigirimana, Frear, McGuire.
ABERDEEN (4-1-3-2) – Lewis 5, Ball 4 (McGinn 61), Arnason 4, Considine 5, O’Connor 5, McKenna 5, Nwakali 4 (Mackay-Steven 43), Christie 5, Stewart 6, Rooney 5 (Cosgrove 79), May 5. Subs not used – Woodman, Reynolds, Campbell, Wright.
Referee – Kevin Clancy 5.
Man of the match: Curtis Main.