Wednesday, December 21, 2011

SPL Advent: Motherwell

Day nine of the SPL Advent. Motherwell, the success story of the season so far.

What were we to expect from Motherwell this SPL season?

Stuart McCall's arrival to replace Craig Brown raised more of a shrug of the shoulders than a cheer last season.

But he impressed in taking the team to the Scottish Cup final, an achievement that raised intriguing possibilities about how he'd fare with a close season behind him.

Crucially he also survived the summer with a relatively unscathed squad.

Top scorer John Sutton left for Hearts but that departure aside, McCall didn't lose any players to rivals and didn't find himself forced into selling key players.

That provided a solid platform for the manager to build on. Unlike so many SPL managers, McCall had the luxury of using his acquisitions to strengthen what was already in place.

The key themes of this SPL Advent review have been transition and inconsistency.

Escaping the tyranny of transition, Motherwell have been the one team from the chasing pack that have delivered consistency.

They've done it with an old school approach to stability.

Six players have featured in every league game, another three have managed 17 out of the 18 games played so far.

If it ain't broke don't fix and all that. And Motherwell are far from being broken.

Michael Higdon, who I'll confess doesn't always convince me, was signed to replace Sutton. And, whatever doubts might remain about a certain profligacy, he has filled the role of top scorer.

With less than half the season gone Jamie Murphy has already equalled his goals tally of the previous two seasons.

Nicky Law was one the Scottish Football Blog's dozen to watch before the season began and he's rarely disappointed. An ever-present, he's the fulcrum of a team playing with confidence and consistency.

With both Higdon and Law, McCall has shown he's got an eye for a sensible signing, for bringing in players that will compliment what he's already got.

Judged on his tenure so far McCall is an impressive fellow, keeping both his side winning and the lustrous ginger hair of a much younger man.

More power to him.

And where has winning got them? The media enjoyed a flirtation with the idea of Motherwell splitting the Old Firm at one stage.

A defeat to Celtic soon put an end to those careless whispers. But Motherwell are looking nicely secure as the best of the rest.

They remain ten points behind Celtic but they're eight clear of fourth placed St Johnstone and twenty points clear of bottom.

With only 12 points separating fourth to twelfth in the SPL, Motherwell are out on their own.

10 games won and four draws. It's been impressive. Heartening too is the way they seem to be able to dust themselves down after the odd defeat, move on and start winning again.

That's not always a quality one associates with teams outside the Old Firm.

Maybe a measure of how good the season has been so far is that some disappointment lingers.

There's the strange discrepancy between home form and away form. Only Rangers have scored more and won more on the road.

But at home Motherwell seem oddly stifled, they've only won three of nine and are the joint lowest scorers at home.

And although they gave some people flutters by positioning themselves between the big two for a while, they're still to take points off Rangers or Celtic.

Minor quibbles. But the difference between a good season and a great season.

And a sign that this could be - with a fair wind and dose of luck - a team that can continue to improve.

I can see a better time, where all our dreams come true


Arguably Motherwell have done quite well out of their last two managers deciding to bugger off.

Old Motherwell manager's don't die. They just go to Aberdeen.

That's allowed progression to the current state of best-of-the-restness.

Staying up there, and further progress, means keeping the nucleus of the team and the manager in place.

The best Christmas present - along with an order for more of the same - would be to keep covetous eyes away from Motherwell's solid riches.

The Scottish Football Blog blogathon took place in November in aid of Alzheimer Scotland and the Homeless World Cup. You can still donate to help two great causes.