The concerns over Pearson, Hammell and McFadden proved to be unfounded – at least until autumn – and we enjoyed a good pre-season. Gordon Marshall, Alex Burns and Stephen Craigan all arrived at Fir Park and while they were not the most glamorous signings in the world, they all seemed quite solid. The team did make a slow start in the friendlies and draws with Hamilton and Stenhousemuir did not inspire confidence.
Pre season at New douglas Park
However, convincing wins against Carlisle and Ayr along with a draw with Fulham did give some cause for optimism. Alex Burns was rattling goals in for fun at this point and all eyes were focused on the season opener against Dundee.
As so often happens, the build up was better than the actual event. A Gordon Marshall error early in the match set the tone and with McFadden only half fit we struggled to create anything. Toastie blasted a penalty wide at 0-2 and Dundee added another late on to give Terry Butcher some early season heart ache. After we lost a dire match at Livingston the next weekend, it seemed as though we were in for a long season.
Our next two matches against Kilmarnock and Thistle were both at Fir Park and it already seemed clear that we needed to take something from them. Thankfully with Faddy fit again we turned in an excellent performance against Killie and Pearo’s last minute header gave us a deserved win. We then drew an even match with Thistle, notable for Faddy’s last goals for the club and Pearson’s sending off – which was then reduced to a booking after the match. Four points from the opening four games was viewed as the minimum acceptable target and with visits to Easter Road and Parkhead up next, it seemed unlikely that we would retain our mid-table status.
Wins in Edinburgh are rare things for Motherwell and there were a few celebratory pints drunk after our 2-0 win at Easter Road. What made this result even more remarkable was that it was our first game without Faddy – who had been transferred to Everton for the tidy sum of £1.25m. Alex Burns and the rest of the team stepped up a gear and we should have been more than one up at half time. Clarkson scrambled his and the teams second midway through the second half to confirm a vital win. We were duly hammered at Parkhead but we could console ourselves with the knowledge that our 3-0 loss was better than United or Livi had managed and if Pearo had shown a bit more composure in front of goal it could have been different.
The League Cup is rarely kind to us and this year was no different. We found ourselves 3-1 down at Forfar before goals from Lasley and Pearson spared some of our blushes. The game went to penalties and whilst Marshall saved one, both Hammell and Clarkson were denied and we were out.
This seemed to give the team a good kick in the backside and we then went on a superb seven game unbeaten run. We took good points from Hearts and Rangers at Fir Park, sandwiched around a wonderful 2-0 win at Tannadice. We then had away trips to traditional graveyards Pittodrie and Dens and astonished even our own support by winning both and keeping clean sheets. Stevie Craig scored in both games, while Pearo and Lasley added to the tally at Aberdeen. This left us in fourth place in the league and despite only managing to draw at home to Livi and Dunfermline, we were still sitting pretty. Our good run, coupled with the woeful displays of Partick Thistle meant that we were eighteen points clear of bottom spot. Surely this couldn’t continue?
Er, no, it didn’t. A lethargic performance at Rugby Park resulted in a 2-0 win for the hosts and, predictably, Partick got their first win of the season against us at Firhill. It looked like we would stop the rot with a draw against Hibs but Riordan scored in injury time to leave us pointless again. We played very well against Celtic but the game turned on an Adams’ missed penalty and we lost. The recent game against Hearts was a poor display of entertainment but we managed to grind out a 0-0 draw. We finished the year in 6th spot, twelve points clear of Thistle – a situation everyone would have grabbed in August.
More significantly, the money from Faddy’s sale can be used to help us out of administration and Bryan Jackson is already working through the paperwork. John Boyle still owns the club but is no longer chairman with Bill Dickie stepping up to that particular job.
So, after a bad start to 2003 things got progressively better and even with our little dip in form it seems clear that we are ending the year in a much better position than we started it. Well done to all involved and let’s hope things continue to improve!