In goal we are very well off. Graeme Smith made an excellent debut season and is a genuine number one ‘keeper. His inclusion in the Scotland squad for the Kirin Cup was a worthy reward for his efforts. Few clubs with our budget could expect a better backup than Colin Meldrum – he is probably not up a full season between the sticks but he can do the job on an occasional basis.
The problems start with the defence though. We have no left back unless Jim Paterson – surely not – is viewed as the solution. Martyn Corrigan will miss months of the season with injury but Paul Quinn should be more than adequate cover. In the middle, Brian McLean is a good addition but he is still learning the trade and is prone to lapses. Stephen Craigan was solid as the secondary man beside Partridge but struggles when he is the leader of the pack. Willie Kinniburgh looked a potential star at 17 but the retention of his beanpole frame has not helped and he has not really progressed in the way we hoped. We definitely need a new left back and an upgrade at centre half would be useful although perhaps Malpas will feel that since we have bodies to put there it is not urgent.
Midfield is possibly the trickiest area of our team at the minute. Foran contributes well at left wing for a converted striker and if Jim Paterson can ever keep fit we have a useful option as back up. The other three positions will be giving the coaching staff sleepless nights. Both Kerr and McBride clearly have talent but it would not be unfair to say that both disappointed last term. They both suffered long term injuries but we cannot wait on them forever. The other starter is Phil O'Donnell – our likely new captain? – but is debatable how many games he will be able to play with his creaking body. We do have Sean Fagan as cover – and despite heavy criticism he can be okay at times – but there is no doubt we need to strengthen heavily in this area. A right winger to challenge McBride is essential and cover in the middle, either for injured Phil or under performing Brian is a must. And despite his play never being the prettiest, Scott Leitch was missed frequently last season. A destroyer who does the simple things might be the order of the day.
Our striking options are also limited. Our star man has only scored twice this year and seems to have delusions of grandeur. McDonald will surely realise his only way out of Fir Park is to score goals but his attitude – in public anyway – and greedy play may alienate himself from the team. The old warhorse Jim Hamilton is probably our best bet for a solid double figure goal return while David Clarkson – after two appalling seasons – must surely be in the last chance saloon. The alternative is Steven McGarry who is another with talent but has not quite convinced in games played so far. Another striker would be nice but again, given we have four bodies (and Richie as well) it may come down the priority list.
We have five positions that need to be strengthened but it is all about prioritising within our budget. A left back is a must. The midfielders must be right behind and the defender and striker can be picked up if there is anything left over. Malpas deserves to be given time to build his own side. Success is not expected from him immediately but after the relative plenty of Butcher's last seasons he must be seen to be going in the right direction early. A big test of his managerial career is already underway, let's hope he is up to it!