Season 2021/22 offered a mix of success and failure with the ultimate reward of a top half finish and a place in the European Conference qualifiers.
The new campaign started in July with the squad still incomplete. As usual, league safety was Motherwell's the top priority.
The fans returned gradually for the group stages of the League Cup as the pandemic threat weakened. They were negotiated in less than simple fashion. Our interest in the tournament ended with a dismal 1-0 Dens Park defeat in the last 16.
Kevin Van Veen and Bevis Mugabi on opening day
Graham Alexander was still building his squad and scarcely concealed his view that the competition was little more than a glorified pre-season.
That opinion was not universally appreciated by the fans but three-year deals to Kainye Woolery, Callum Slattery, Sondre Solholm and Connor Shields suggested there was a change of approach in the air.
Kevin Van Veen was brought in as replacement for Watt, who ended up staying and producing the form of his life – only to leave for Dundee United on a Christmas pre-contract.
The team against Dundee
Finnish international Juhani Ojala was another newcomer given a two season contract, another capture which raised eyebrows.
Cash was found to secure Liam Kelly on a permanent basis, an indication of the biggest investment in the team since Mark McGhee got John Boyle onto a second bottle of wine in 2007.
An opening day thriller was lost 3-2 to Hibs but that turned out to be our only loss in the league until we visited Tynecastle in October. It was rarely pretty and at times did little to convince, especially when the loss to Hearts sparked a run of one point in 15, culminating in a 6-1 home Halloween humiliation to Rangers.
Alexander admitted to a full and frank exchange of views in the dressing room and the outcome was a decision to try to impose ourselves a little more rather than being wholly reactive.
That was not immediately seen when we produced one of the most negative halves in our history to go in goalless at Pittodrie but a brilliant Van Veen double – with our only shots of the game – after the break opened November with a win.
His previous award in September preceded a collapse but December had nothing of the kind. We lost at Celtic Park and a good point at Hibs saw us tick over before St Johnstone and Livingston were dismissed either side of Christmas.
By that point the signing of Ross Tierney from Ireland’s Bohemians had already been confirmed for January though the loss of Watt and the limit of only 500 home fans against Livingston highlighted uncertainty ahead, on and off the pitch.
Watt’s departure was a blow but the club made a calculated risk that the money which would have kept him will be better spent elsewhere.
Liam Donnelly’s long-awaited return from injury was like a fresh signing while our own Barry Maguire and Dean Cornelius improved their status after emerging from the academy in recent years.
As the year ended Motherwell seemed likely to be above the cut when the third cycle of fixtures was complete in April. The football on offer was never sparkling but long term occupation of fourth place earned grudging tolerance from the home stands.
Morton – who else – awaited in the Scottish Cup while Hibs, Aberdeen, United and ourselves would contest the three remaining top six spots. With fifth likely to make Europe, it would not be a good season to end the wrong side of the line after 33 games even if seventh would have been considered solid by many in summer.
31 points from 20 games effectively guaranteed top-flight football next term already. The only question was whether the season would end good, great or a chance missed.
Alexander's statistics over the calendar year were superb: 59 top-flight points in 2021 was bettered only by the Old Firm. The difference to our situation from the previous 12 months was staggering and there was every reason to anticipate 2022.
Part 2 is here.