Motherwell started and finished the year near the bottom of the table, in between there was a spectacular revival and a horrible slump.
The year began with Motherwell in tenth place and low in confidence. A five game winless run at the end of the old year was extended by a further six as January turned to February. Draws against Livingston and Ross County together with four league defeats before a humiliating Scottish Cup exit in Kirkcaldy brought about the sad but inevitable end to Stephen Hammell’s time in charge.
During those early months the club revealed a £1M loss for the previous financial year and Jim McMahon stated at the AGM that another deficit was inevitable barring a decent cup run or a substantial player sale.
Alan Burrows surprised us all by announcing his departure after fifteen years’ service in a range of capacities. The plan to have him stay until a replacement was found was soon jettisoned as he moved to Pittodrie.
Derek Weir filled in as interim CEO but as the year drew to a close he and the chairman indicated that they would step down early in 2024. The club faced a complete overhaul at the top and a new challenge for the recently enlarged board of the Well Society.
The coffers received a boost when Sondre Solholm was sold to Odds BK in Norway and the movement of half a dozen on loan made room for some much needed fresh blood to jump start a revival. Nine players were added including Calum Butcher, James Furlong, Jon Obika, Mikeal Mandron and Dan Casey. Max Johnston was recalled from Cove Rangers.
Hammell was unfortunate not to enjoy the benefit of those imports but his successor made good use of them. Stuart Kettlewell had been at the club as a development coach and took charge on an interim basis after the loss to Raith Rovers. He impressed and was given an 18 month contract.
The manager changed the team’s shape and adopted a 3-4-1-2 formation. The alteration proved to be an immediate success. The defence improved and Kevin van Veen began to score for fun.
In the fourteen games under Kettlewell’s command until the end of the season Motherwell won nine, drew three and lost only two. It was a staggering revival that catapulted van Veen into the record books. He amassed 29 goals in the season and scored in eleven consecutive games. There was never a doubt where the player of the year trophy was headed.
Seventh place was confirmed with the 3-2 win over doomed Dundee United on the last game of the season and a big home support was able to show their grateful thanks to the players and staff.
The summer transfer window saw a score of players depart. Kevin van Veen was sold to Groningen for £500k and a development fee of £300k was due as Max Johnston joined Sturm Graz.
By the end of August nine had been added as Kettlewell began to shape his squad. Mika Biereth, on loan from Arsenal, made a sparkling start but an injury (from old boy Charles Dunne) kept him out from mid-August until the end of October. Despite that the season started well. The group stage of the League Cup had us seeded for the knockout but a single goal loss in Paisley stopped progress.
Four games into the League had us sitting pretty. An opening draw at Dens and wins over Hibs, Kilmarnock and Hearts gave the optimists cause to believe that the fabulous form that saved us in the previous season would continue. Who needs a 29 goal striker? Then the bubble burst.
Motherwell gained much praise but no points from the games against St Mirren, Rangers and Celtic. We had twenty two shots to St Mirren’s eight but the visitors scored the only goal; the Rangers’ manager acknowledged that his side were fortunate to take the points at Ibrox and an equaliser five minutes into added time was not enough to prevent an even later winner from Celtic.
That run of winless games stretched on and on and on and eventually reached fifteen.
At the top end we struggled to score as none of Jon Obika, Theo Bair or Oli Shaw were productive strikers. The fact that we had conceded more goals than any other team by the turn of the year says plenty about the defence.
The team did show one useful quality. Motherwell topped the table for points taken from a losing possession. Goals scored in added time against Ross County, Celtic, Dundee and St Johnstone kept us above the relegation place but the as the weeks without a win dragged on the pressure on the manager grew.
Final game of the year produced the long awaited win against Livingston at Fir Park. It offered some comfort for the forthcoming winter break but there was no disguising the fact that a significant improvement would be needed to lift the team away from the danger area.