“I remember at one stage turning to Mark Reynolds. The scoreboard was broken that night and I asked ‘What’s the score?’, and he said ‘I think it’s five or six?’.
The sense of battle-weary bewilderment was palpable not just in the stands at Fir Park on 5 May, 2010, but throughout a Motherwell team helplessly watching their European hopes disintegrate with every goal.
The Lanarkshire side knew victory over Hibernian, the team a point behind them in the Scottish Premier League, in the penultimate game of the season would secure European qualification. Instead, with less than 25 minutes to play, their captain had lost track of how many his team had conceded.
The emptying of the home stands quickly ran from a trickle to a flood as the score ticked round to 6-2 to the visitors. Yet, what happened next will go down in Scottish football folklore, the JFK moment for thousands with an ML1 postcode.
Ten years on to the day of Scottish football’s most bonkers ever match, the main protagonists in one of the game’s greatest comebacks guide us through the mystifying and mesmeric events of 5 May, 2010…
First-half hat-tricks and changing room conundrums
Despite going into the game in fourth place, Motherwell were in a precarious position. Craig Brown’s side knew they had to go to Ibrox on the final day three days later to face champions Rangers, while Hibernian had the slightly easier task of facing third-placed Dundee United.
Motherwell striker Lukas Jutkiewicz: “I’d had a few knee issues that season, and in the previous game at Celtic Craig Brown put me on the bench so I was ready to play in the Hibs game. With my knee and the pitch being in the state it was in, I was a bit worried.”
Hibernian striker Colin Nish: “Our main focus was getting a European spot and we thought if we had won that game we would put our own fate in our hands.”
Hibernian manager John Hughes: “I remember saying to Chipper [assistant Brian Rice] that we needed to get something from it. It’s a game we should have won hands down.”
Within 45 minutes, Hibs’ grip on the game looked unyielding. On a rutted pitch that was patchworked together by islands of lush new turf surrounded by oceans of sand, Colin Nish managed to sail into the box to net a hat-trick, hit the post and be denied a strong penalty claim in an early flood of goals.
Giles Goke did have Motherwell briefly back level at 1-1 with John Sutton adding a second just before the break, but the hosts went into the break trailing 4-2 as Derek Riordan also netted with John Hughes smelling blood.
Hughes: “We were all about attacking that year. We scored some great goals and a lot of them.
“I remember at half-time saying to them ‘right, same as before boys, let’s keep our concentration and keep going, there’s more goals’.”
Nish: “I scored a hat-trick, hit the post and should have had a penalty in that wee spell. It was really quick.
“Even then when we go in at 4-2 half-time, we felt we were going to score more goals to make it harder for Motherwell.”
Motherwell captain Stephen Craigan: “Every time I see the game back and look at a Hibs goal, there’s not a Motherwell player near him. How can someone get that much space? I have no idea what happened.
“They scored early, we equalised, then they scored again quickly. It just seemed to be every time the ball came into our box they scored.
Referee Willie Collum: “Never did I think as things were progressing that it would end up like it did. Even as a referee, at half-time you’re thinking it was damage limitation for Motherwell.”
Jutkiewicz: “I remember at half-time Craig Brown felt there was more goals in the game, but with it being 4-2 to Hibs just make sure we got the next one. Then we obviously didn’t…”
65 minutes (Motherwell 2-6 Hibernian) – Stokes’ brace, knackered scoreboards & emptying stands
For all Motherwell manager Brown’s half-time optimism, within 20 minutes of the restart his team were on the canvas waiting on the white towel being thrown. Anthony Stokes carved out another two ludicrously-defended goals in front of a bamboozled crowd and a national television audience, with many inside Fir Park streaming for the exits as the score hit 6-2 with 25 minutes to play.
Craigan: “I remember at one stage turning to Mark Reynolds. The scoreboard was broken that night and I asked ‘What’s the score?’, and he said ‘I think it’s five or six?’.
“When it went to 6-2, if you’d have asked me or many of the players in our team if we wanted to blow the whistle and just go in we’d have said yes. I was really thinking ‘this really could be double figures. Please don’t get any more’.
Jutkiewicz: “The plan was actually to take me off after 70 minutes. At 6-2 down you are thinking ‘they’re going to take me off’ but I looked over at the bench. It was my last game at Fir Park before my loan spell finished, so I said I was absolutely fine despite the fact I was feeling it.
“I remember the ground started to empty at 6-2. The fans had rightfully got fed up and headed to the pub.”
67 minutes (Motherwell 3-6 Hibernian) – ‘You’ve still got a chance, we can’t defend’
Not even the most optimistic Motherwell fans would have given their team a hope at this stage. Those who remained did so out of an ingrained sense of duty, while the din coming from the 700 or so Hibs supporters resonated throughout the ground. Yet, there was one man who still gave the hosts a chance, and he was playing in green and white…
Craigan: “We had a corner at 6-2 down. Ian Murray was marking me and he said ‘You still have a chance’. I just looked at him and said ‘It’s 6-2!’, and he replied ‘Yeah but we can’t defend’.
“I just said to him ‘Have you watched us!?’.
“We ended up scoring from that corner through Giles Coke. We then went back up for another corner a few minutes later and Ian just said ‘I told you’.”
72 minutes (Motherwell 4-6 Hibernian) – ‘Oh no’
Giles Coke’s goal stirred Motherwell, but it was the impact on the visitors that told the most. Fiive minutes later, Tom Hateley’s free-kick was missed by everyone and slithered under goalkeeper Graeme Smith.
Nish: “They scored two quick goals to make it 6-4 and they were probably preventable. At that point you think ‘Oh no’.”
Craigan: “You could see their body language change. I always thought we could score, but my worry was always of letting more in.”
Hughes: “At 6-3, you could see them getting confidence and we buckled and we lost bad goals.
“All that season we were an attacking team, it was about goals. Should I have changed it and got us to sit back a wee bit? I always think the best form of defence was attack.”
76 minutes (Motherwell 5-6 Hibernian) – ‘The defending left a lot to be desired’
By this point, Hughes’ Hibs were struggling to string a pass together as Motherwell fans listening on radios outside in their cars attempted to rush back into Fir Park. With 14 minutes to play, striker John Sutton outjumped goalkeeper Smith to crash in a header. From the dead, Motherwell were a goal away…
Craigan: “We then got it back to 6-5 and I just thought about Ian Murray ‘he’s right!’.”
Collum: “I think both teams would agree the defending left a lot to be desired and maybe the goalkeeping as well. It was just thrilling, though.”
86 minutes (Motherwell 5-6 Hibernian) – Penalty Motherwell
Four minutes left on the clock. Car-crash moment for Hibs goalkeeper Smith. The former Motherwell man hurtles off his line to gather the ball as Jutkiewicz runs through, clattering the striker in the process. Collum points to the spot and the ball is handed to substitute Ross Forbes…
Craigan: “We got the penalty and I thought ‘This is it. If we score this then we can even win this’. How could you think that having been 6-2 down? Then Ross missed, and you think ‘there you go, that’s it gone’.”
Nish: “I never felt in threat of not winning the game. Obviously Motherwell scored and then again, but we got a wee fright when the missed their penalty.”
Collum: “When Motherwell missed the penalty you thought they had missed their chance.”
Jutkiewicz: “A lot of people forget we missed a penalty at 6-5. Had Ross not been on the pitch I’d have taken it myself, but Ross was designated penalty taker and had a great left foot. I said ‘Do you mind if I take it?’ and he said ‘No I’ll do it’.
“At 6-5 down and you miss a penalty, you think that’s it. All you can do is hope for the best, hoping for that one chance.”
93 minutes (Motherwell 6-6 Hibernian) – Flying kitmen & tight angles
Two-and-a-half minutes of four extra minutes had been played. The Hibernian defence by this point were kicking the ball in every direction they faced – sometimes actually managing it – while Hughes covered every inch of his technical area like a possessed budgie. With the last roll of the die, Fir Park held its breath as Sutton’s thundered ball forward soared into the dark Lanarkshire sky, with barely enough time left for it to descend…
Jutkiewicz: “John Sutton just hoofed it over their defence. I was 21 at the time so I had more legs than I do now, and I managed to get my body between the ball and Paul Hanlon. Once I got into the box I knew it was the last chance I had, I just thought ‘get have half a yard and get a shot off’.
“Maybe I was so fatigued no other thought was in my head other than hit it.”
As time stood still, a ferocious volley was unleashed from a tight angle, screaming over Smith’s grasping hands and arrowing into the far top corner.
Jutkiewicz: “It’s only when I watched it back after that I realised how tight an angle it was. It was the perfect way to end what was a really enjoyable season at Fir Park.
“It was just shock. I was mobbed by not just the players but half the staff. I remember Aldo the kitman sprinting up the touchline and jumping on top. It’s the kind of stuff you play the game for, those emotional moments.”
Craigan: “Jukey’s finish was fit to win any game, never mind earn a draw. All the emotion, the highs and the lows, people leaving and then coming back in, not knowing what the score was, missing the penalty. Just wow.”
The aftermath – Shock, thoughts of retiring and wry smiles
Jutkiewicz: “We went into the changing room and it was either Craig or Archie [Knox, Brown’s assistant] who came back in and just said ‘I’m not even going to bother dissecting that, well done’.
“I said to my friend after the game ‘I should just retire now, I think that’s it’.”
Craigan: “I think the three highest-scoring games in the old SPL were Motherwell 4-5 Dundee United, Motherwell 5-6 Aberdeen, and Motherwell 6-6 Hibs, and I played in them all. If anyone was looking for a common denominator I think they’ve found it.”
Hughes: “You try to think ‘how do we get over this?’.
“After the game we were just looking at each other in disbelief. It was a shake of the hand, a pat on the back, and a wee wry smile.
“It was great to score six goals away from home in such an important game… the downside is they scored six as well.”
Nish: “I was just in shock. The stakes were high and it was a big thing for me to play in Europe for the club as I grew up a Hibs fan. You were just gutted. You couldn’t think about what happened. It just took so long to sit in, you’re going home thinking ‘Jesus, what happened there?’.
Collum: “Craig Brown was unhappy with me. He was claiming that Graeme Smith, the Hibs goalie, was off his line at the penalty that was missed. I remember being quite taken aback that anyone could have an issue when the game had a scoreline like that.”
Just four days on, Hibernian would go on to beat Dundee United 2-0 at Tannadice thanks to a Nish double to finish fourth, while an injury-time Jutkiewicz penalty earned Motherwell a 3-3 Ibrox draw on his last game before returning to parent club Everton.
However, as third-placed Dundee United won the Scottish Cup the following week, Brown’s men would also make it into Europe in fifth place.
Collum: “Usually people ask referees what’s the best game we’ve been involved in. They expect you to say a cup final, a relegation play-off or a Champions League game.
“But every time someone asks me about it I always say Motherwell v Hibs. It was thrilling from start to finish.”
Nish: “I still have the match ball at my mum and dad’s house. It’s a good one to have.”