BLOOD, sweat, snotters, total commitment from two sets of players and an absolute worldy to win the game. It might not have been football for the purists, but the Scottish Cup tie fiercely contested by Motherwell and Hearts was the world’s oldest cup competition at its captivating best.

After 90 minutes of slugging it out toe-to-toe, and doing their best to pummel the ball and each other into submission, the goal apiece that the sides shared looked to be fair enough reward for their efforts over a gruelling and brutal contest.

The only question that remained as the clock ticked towards a replay at Tynecastle was whether one of these pugilistic sides had one last knockout blow left in them, and up stepped Motherwell skipper Carl McHugh to answer emphatically with a slug to the guts of over 4000 Jambos packed into the away end, while the punch-drunk home support celebrated wildly. It was one of those celebrations that mixed incredulity with jubilation, with scarcely anyone, not even McHugh himself, believing what he had just produced with his swinger of a right foot.

And it was a goal fit to win any game, as Motherwell earned their second semi-final and their fourth trip to Hampden this season. The only disappointment for them, and for McHugh, is that he won’t be able to take part, picking up his second booking of the competition and a suspension for a mistimed tackle on Harry Cochrane in the first half. But not even that could wipe the smile off his face afterwards.

“Obviously I’m gutted to miss the semi-final, but it’s not about me, it’s about the boys,” said McHugh. “Everything we do every day is as a group, and this is the same. We’re so happy to be going back to Hampden, and we’ve got plenty of boys who can come in and do a great job in the semi-final.

“I’m more than confident that they can get us through to a final again, and that’s the important thing. “It’s all about the club and the team, it’s not about me.”

It looked as though Motherwell’s progress to the national stadium might be altogether more serene early on, as a Hearts side that has been much praised for their defensive fortitude since Craig Levein took the reins started the match as if they had never met one another.

It didn’t take long for a huge moment of controversy to flare up, as an early cross from Craig Tanner slipped from the grasp of Hearts goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin, who then threw his hand on top of the ball just as Chris Cadden arrived to force the ball into the net.

Referee Andrew Dallas infuriated the home support by awarding a free-kick against the Motherwell midfielder, and at first sight, it looked to be an enormous let-off for the keeper, but Dallas gave him the benefit of the doubt and deemed that his one hand on the ball was enough to have it under his control.

The home side weren’t to be denied for long though, and again McLaughlin, touted for a Scotland call up by many for his fine form this season, didn’t cover himself in glory. He wasn’t helped by Ross Callachan, mind you.

A low corner from Craig Tanner was inexplicably left by the Hearts midfielder at the near post, with the ball rebounding off the off the shins of McLaughlin and hitting the post, leaving Main to dribble home the rebound from an inch or so out.

The match then became a ferocious midfield battle, with referee Dallas interjecting on occasion to send both sets of supporters into a fury with some questionable decision-making.

Hearts came out of the traps in the second half with greater intent and were rewarded six minutes after the restart as Stephen Naismith was sent tumbling in the area by a clumsy Cedric Kipre challenge, and this time there was little protest as referee Dallas pointed to the spot.

Kyle Lafferty had missed a last-minute penalty during the week against Kilmarnock as his tame effort was saved by Jamie MacDonald, and as a result, Naismith was the man who was instructed to assume responsibility. But Lafferty claimed the ball and made no mistake this time as he buried it down the middle.

He almost gave Hearts the lead moments later as Naismith played him in on the right, but his low shot across Trevor Carson trundled onto the post and rebounded to safety.

The Northern Irishman went close again as he rose to meet Harry Cochrane’s cross, but he was denied by a stunning save from his compatriot in the Motherwell goal, Carson stretching to his left to paw clear.

Just as the game looked to be drifting towards a replay, up stepped McHugh to produce a moment of absolute brilliance, controlling a Christophe Berra headed clearance on his chest and unleashing a rocket of a volley into the top corner.