MOTHERWELL goalkeeper Mark Gillespie apologised to his side’s supporters after the Steelmen crashed out of the Scottish Cup with a dismal display against Championship leaders Ross County, but he was perhaps the only member of his team that had nothing to be sorry for.

If it wasn’t for Gillespie, indeed, the 2-1 scoreline - which flattered Motherwell – could have been a fair bit worse.

As it was, a second-half Brian Graham double was enough to see County into the hat for the next round despite an injury-time consolation from Motherwell youngster Jake Hastie.

For the home crowd, an afternoon that had started with a huge sense of anticipation as Gboly Ariyibi and Ross McCormack made their home bows ended in a deep sense of despair as the memories of their trips to Hampden last season now seem all the more distant.

“That was hugely disappointing,” said Gillespie. “We’ve let the supporters down and our dressing room was silent after the game.

“Individually and collectively, we need to look at ourselves in the mirror. We have no excuses - they were the better team and they deserved to win.

“After what the club achieved last season, we’ve missed an opportunity here. The lads will remember last season for the rest of their lives and, if the fans are disappointed, the players are too.

“If we knew why we were off the pace then we wouldn’t have been like that. They moved the ball quicker and we were just second-best throughout. I don’t think it was an attitude thing because we have a really honest dressing room.

“Obviously, it’s concerning but at least we’re in a position where we can improve on where we are in the league. We have good players and we can get big results – you look at our games at home against Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen where we took points.

“We just need to lift ourselves to those levels more consistently.”

Motherwell don’t have too much time to lick their wounds, with Hibernian coming to Fir Park on league duty on Wednesday night.

Gillespie is relishing the early opportunity to get the County game out of his system, and he has stressed the importance of his teammates shrugging off their disappointment quickly to avoid being dragged into a relegation battle.

“Football moves quickly, and we have Hibs on Wednesday to kick off the second half of our league campaign,” he said. “We need to be better, though, because we were miles off it against County.

“It should help having the midweek game because it means we can’t dwell on this one. We’ll look at it on Monday morning to identify what went wrong – and plenty went wrong – but, as soon as that meeting ends, we’ll turn our attention to Wednesday night.

“We can close the gap on Hibs and that will be a positive. The next three games are massive. We have Hibs, Dundee then Livingston and, if we can take two positive results, then I don’t see why we can’t make the top six.

“Having said that, if results go against us it will leave us with a lot to do. The next week can really set up the rest of the season for us.”

For County, the victory and the nature of it will be a huge boost to their own campaign as they recovered from the mauling at Queen of the South last time out in fine style.

Goal hero Brian Graham isn’t getting ahead of himself, but he was buoyed by the performance and by bagging his double after stop-start season through injury.

And the forward revealed that he had a rather unusual way of thanking Declan McManus, who set up both his goals, for putting the ball on a plate for him.

He said: “I think we’ve got some good players in that dressing room, but we can’t get carried away it’s still a long way to go and coming off the back of two defeats we’re going into the Alloa game next week full of confidence after this game. You never know what’s going to happen.

“I was gutted not to get the hat-trick but these things happen, just delighted to be in the hat.

“It was a great performance coming off the back of a bad defeat last week in the league. We were the underdogs, but we came here with a belief we were going to get into the hat and we managed to do that.

“Me and Dec played in the challenge cup game here against the Motherwell 20s and I gave him a bit of stick when he played right mid because I thought he should’ve found me a few times so we’ve been having a bit of crack about it.

“To be fair he’s found me twice today and I gave him a big cuddle and a kiss in the shower there.”