The season just departed took Motherwell fans on an unpredictable rollercoaster ride that included a slump, a revival, three managers and a goal scoring hero.
All seemed set fair in July. A huge investment in the Fir Park pitch had the old ground looking good and more than seven thousand turned out to see the season begin with the first leg of the UEFA Conference tie against Sligo Rovers.
The visitors left with a one goal lead and completed the job the following week to progress with a 3-0 aggregate. They were in mid-season and Motherwell were sluggish, predicable and deserved losers.
The close season turnaround had seen thirteen departures and eight arrivals. Liam Donnelly and Mark O’Hara followed Keith Lasley to Paisley but Ricki Lamie choose to stay while Paul McGinn and Blair Spittal joined.
The prospect of more of Graham Alexander’s unfashionable and hard to watch football and fear of the forthcoming prospects led to the manager’s departure days before the league opener. Stephen Hammell was recalled from his doon the watter holiday to take temporary command. He was given a two year contract on August 11.
The first league game delivered a narrow win as St Mirren Park but there was an immediate belief that the style of play had improved. Players that had for months hoofed the ball forward started to pass. Fans smiled.
A careless home loss to St Johnstone followed but wins in Aberdeen and at home against Livingston sealed a glowing start for the well loved Hammy. Fir Park regulars had no inkling that there would be no more league victories on the immaculate turf for the rest of the year.
Louis Moult arrived on an ill-fated attempt to create a dream partnership with Kevin van Veen but the venture needed more than the affection of the fans to succeed and he returned to Burton Albion during the World Cup break.
Inverness were thumped 4-0in the League Cup but Celtic recorded the same score to end involvement at the end of October. The biggest win of the season arrived on a midweek trip to Dingwall. A van Veen hat-trick contributed to a 5-0 result that shortened the long homeward journey.
That triumph was followed by a run of a dozen league games without a win. The team was dogged by a series of injuries to first team regulars (Jake Carroll, Nathan McGinley, Bevis Mugabi, Sondre Solholm, Joe Efford and Louis Moult) but a combination of shaky defence and toothless attack sent the team racing to the lower reaches of the table.
Some hope arrived at Tannadice with a 1-0 win thanks to a Sondre Solholm header. The biggest cheer of the afternoon came when Tony Watt was red carded after a VAR consultation. It was subsequently overturned.
The resumption after the World Cup coincided with low temperatures. There were burst pipes in all stands and the game against St Mirren was postponed. Business resumed with a visit from Kilmarnock. Despite a two goal lead against ten men we had to settle for a draw. The players appeared to be unable to rise to the occasion.
The year ended with a 3-0 loss at Ibrox and the team in tenth place. Pessimistic chat about our prospects in the relegation struggle was widespread. The appearance of a luminous yellow charity away strip did nothing to alter the team's fortunes.
Part 2 follows…