With seconds left all hope seemed lost for a Motherwell side needing to win to repeat their second-place finish of last season, but which was being eclipsed by an Aberdeen team mooted by most to take their place. The Fir Park club had registered one shot on target, spending the majority of the match on the edge of their own area as wave after wave of Aberdeen attacks crashed against their defence.
But then the tide somehow turned. Motherwell right-back Craig Reid, who was brought into the club in February, reacted first to a loose ball in the box deep into injury time - ignoring claims from the home players and fans of a foul on goalkeeper Jamie Langfield - to bundle the ball into the net. It triggered an outpouring of emotion from a team whose hard-faced mettle had afforded them the chance to strike.
"I wasn't sure if the goal was in or not," said Reid, who is hoping to earn a new contract in the summer. "I think he [Langfield] misjudged the flight of the ball, I don't think there was too much in it. It certainly wasn't me who fouled him. It's brilliant."
The goal, and the three points it delivered, will define the actions of both clubs. Motherwell, who have clinched a European place six times in the last seven seasons, have £240,000 extra in their coffers, as well as a later entry into the Europa League qualifiers over the summer.
Aberdeen return to action a fortnight earlier, on July 3 and 10, some 31 years since they lifted the European Cup Winners' Cup in Gothenburg, after beating Real Madrid 2-1. While finishing second in the Premiership is not on a par with that feat, it would have been a marker as to how far the club have come under Derek McInnes, given their previous four seasons had ended in the bottom six of the league.
The Aberdeen manager lifted the League Cup on March 16, part of what seemed to be a momentous campaign for the former St Johnstone manager, with a Scottish Cup semi-final place to look forward to and his team comfortable in second place since February. Few could have predicted it would prove to be the highlight of their efforts over the last 10 months.
"It's hard to take but until a couple of weeks ago we weren't obsessed with finishing second," said McInnes. "We felt we would be good enough to get the points we needed."
McInnes had named an unchanged team from the one which beat Dundee United 3-1 last Tuesday. Stuart McCall, meanwhile, aimed to stifle the Aberdeen midfield as Reid was moved into a holding midfield position behind the central pairing of Keith Lasley and Iain Vigurs, with Zaine Francis-Angol and Lionel Ainsworth on the flanks.
The plan had to be altered early as the latter hobbled off to be replaced by Henri Anier, yet Motherwell's containing game paid off in a fairly dreich first half. The closest the home side came to breaking the resistance was a Jonny Hayes cross which hit the far post before pinging out, to be eventually saved by Lee Hollis.
Following the break it was much the same as Aberdeen continued their pursuit of a win which was not needed. Niall McGinn was the main protagonist, twice denied by Shaun Hutchinson's last-ditch tackles.
However, the game began to turn in the 84th minute, with Motherwell's first lucky break; Peter Pawlett appeared to be wrongly ruled offside after a reverse pass from Scott Vernon put him in on goal. The second gifted Motherwell their 22nd victory of a campaign which franks this season's tally as the highest post-war winning mark in the club's history. A Keith Lasley free kick was lofted into the Aberdeen box, with John Sutton and Langfield colliding in the air as the shouts went up for a foul on the Aberdeen goalkeeper. Referee Steven McLean ignored them as the ball bounced before cannoning back off the bar, with Motherwell full-back Fraser Kerr trying to bundle it over the line. Defender Mark Reynolds did his best to keep it out, only for Reid to charge in at the back post and score.