Motherwell manager Steven Hammell suffered another serious blow as his team fell to a 3-1 Scottish Cup defeat by Raith Rovers.
The cinch Premiership strugglers trailed to a Jamie Gullan penalty and a scrappy Sam Stanton goal at half-time before Kevin van Veen’s strike gave them hope .
But Esmael Goncalves notched a debut goal in the 85th minute to put the fifth-round tie beyond doubt and cast uncertainty over the future of Hammell.
The form guide suggested the Championship side would have more than a chance of knocking out their top-flight visitors. Rovers are now 12 games unbeaten and reached the SPFL Trust Trophy final on Wednesday by beating Dundee. Motherwell’s fourth-round win over Arbroath remains their only victory since October 29.
Hammell has been dealing with a defensive injury crisis with Ricki Lamie joining Bevis Mugabi and Shane Blaney on the sidelines last weekend. That meant a new-look central defence of debutants Calum Butcher and Dan Casey.
Further forward, Hammell brought in Ross Tierney, Riku Danzaki and Van Veen to support centre-forward Jonathan Obika but their first-half performance failed to produce much of a goal threat.
Raith boss Ian Murray was able to freshen up his team by making five changes following their penalty shoot-out win at Dens Park.
The home side got a break with a 17th-minute penalty award from referee Nick Walsh after Gullan’s shot had struck Callum Slattery, who was booked for handball. The former Hibernian striker dispatched his spot-kick down the middle.
Rovers wide player Dylan Easton curled inches wide from 20 yards moments later before Motherwell finally settled down and began keeping possession. All they had to show for it though was a Van Veen turn and shot that was held by Jamie MacDonald before Rovers went two up in the 39th minute.
Motherwell looked stretched on the transition as Raith switched play. Liam Kelly appeared to deal with Gullan’s shot but he fumbled before being challenged by Stanton who turned it home. The Motherwell captain looked pleadingly at Walsh but there was no foul.
Hammell made three half-time changes as Max Johnston, Olly Crankshaw and Stuart McKinstry were sent on.
The Well boss got the early lifeline he craved when Van Veen turned home from 12 yards after getting the break of the ball.
Well kept up the pressure and the visiting bench appealed loudly for a penalty for some holding on Casey, before Murray responded by bringing on Goncalves following his loan move from Livingston in the morning.
Motherwell had chances to draw level. Blair Spittal shot wide from a decent opening and Ryan Nolan turned Van Veen’s cross against his own bar
But Rovers began to get some respite and Goncalves sprung the offside trap before firing an angled shot past Kelly.
There was further misery for Motherwell as Spittal and Slattery went off with muscle injuries ahead of their crucial Premiership clash with St Mirren on Wednesday.
Hammell, Motherwell’s post-war record appearance holder, faced cries of ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’ from the Raith fans before some of the visiting supporters joined in.