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Classic Scottish Cup final was so painful for Dundee United

As Motherwell try to block Celtic’s bid for a double treble in today’s Scottish Cup Final, most football fans would be delighted if the tie is a repeat of the Steelmen’s last success in the competition.

All, probably, except Dundee United fans.

For although ’Well’s 1991 success came in a final that is often labelled the best-ever, the fact it was the Tangerines sixth in a losing run at Hampden spread over 17 painful years made it a day to forget for Arabs.

The Tangerine stars were left disappointed on the day as unfancied Motherwell ran out 4-3 winners after extra-time at Hampden.

Having fallen at the final hurdle in 1974, ’81, ’85, ‘87 and ’88, the United support that headed for Hampden that day should possibly have feared the worst.

The fact, however, four of those five defeats had been to the Old Firm and were not entirely unexpected, meant they made the journey believing this was going to be their year.

On paper there was good reason for that optimism. Motherwell were a decent side but with stars like Maurice Malpas, Dave Bowman, Jim McInally, Miodrag Krivokapic and the precocious young talent of Duncan Ferguson and Ray McKinnon in their ranks, United were clear favourites.

John O’Neil headed in United’s second goal of the final

And although a header from former Tannadice favourite Iain Ferguson had Motherwell up at half-time, once Bowman fired an equaliser 10 minutes into the second half, things seemed to be back on track.

That goal, though, sparked this game into life and, just three minutes later, the late Phil O’Donnell had restored the opposition lead.

And when Ian Angus got their third with 25 minutes left, another final failure looked sealed.

United had other ideas and, as the avalanche of goals continued, almost straight away John O’Neil pulled one back with a fine header.

Motherwell’s Luc Nijholt tried to tussle down Maurice Malpas

After that the Motherwell goal was bombarded with attack after attack but, with keeper Ally Maxwell performing heroics, despite picking up a serious abdominal injury in an accidental collision with John Clark, it looked like the equaliser wasn’t going to come.

Until, that was, in one desperate last attempt to save the final, deep in injury time goalie Alan Main launched a massive kick down the park and Darren Jackson got their before Maxwell to knock the ball into the net.

It was almost the last touch of normal time and such a blow to a ’Well team that looked out on their feet and seemed to have one hand on the cup. Surely United would go on and win in extra-time.

Just four minutes into the first added period, though, what proved the final blow was struck when Steve Kirk earned himself immortal status at Fir Park with a header to put his team 4-3 up.

Motherwell captain Tom Boyd is presented with the Tennent’s Scottish Cup.

United threw everything into attack but this time there was no way back.

And what had been dubbed the family final, because of the absence of the Old Firm and the fact opposing managers Jim and Tommy McLean were brothers, ended in controversy.

Believing Main had been fouled at the winning goal, several players confronted referee David Syme in the tunnel afterwards and that led to bans being dished out.

“Jimmy McInally had blisters so he’d taken his boots of out on the pitch and unfortunately one of them seemed to bounce off the ref’s head,” said goal scorer Bowman.

A young Dave Bowman

“We did certainly feel their fourth goal shouldn’t have stood so that, and the fact we lost, meant it might have been a classic final but for us there was no consolation.

“Thankfully, we went on to win the cup three years later.

“However, nothing really ever makes up for the ones you lost.”

This article originally appeared on the Evening Telegraph website. For more information, read about our new combined website.