GLF 59: Gavin tries to assess what success is for Motherwell.
ROLL UP FOR THE MYSTERY TOUR
How do you judge success at Motherwell ?
After two seasons of finishing in the Top Six do we view anything less as failure ?Listening to some people,we have under-performed,all those late goals equal a wasted opportunity,we have failed to build on the momentum of the last couple of years' improvement.
But if we do finish in the Top Six,still very possible at the end of February,then the team will have achieved something no Motherwell team has done since the Ancell Babes. They were the last team to finish in the top six for three years running, 1959, 1960 and 1961.A team widely viewed as one of the greatest teams in Scotland never to win a trophy.Consistency is not a trait a club like Motherwell has in abundance,so why would anyone be so critical of failure to cast aside 45 years of history and be unable to cement a place in the Top Six?
Because criticism is something we do have in abundance,not from the majority of fans but from some people,some who look old enough to have seen many of those 45 years where we have failed to be consistent time and time again.Pettigrew and Graham managed two in a row,Coyne and Arnott managed two as well, a third and a second-placed finish,but the season before that Dougie had kept us up by the skin of our teeth and the season after was a big letdown.
Perhaps it's because we have seen Kilmarnock and Inverness do what we did in the previous two years ie surprise the pundits and consolidate a place in the top half of the table for much of the season.But is that such a surprise ?Killie have a similar support and wage bill to us,they've had a good manager working there for several years now who has had a chance tobuild a team.And Caley Thistle are a good side,strong at the back,with one of the hardest-working midfields you'll see,with two strikers in the form of their life and more flair and attacking nous than people give them credit for throughout the team.They've made some very shrewd purchases too,for example Ian Black came from Blackburn and is a tremendous player.
So it shouldn't be that much of a surprise to find them stealing our thunder a bit.But has this season not been been a success for the 'Well in the face of adversity ? They say luck evens itself out over the course of the season,that good teams make their own luck.But how does luck even itself out ?Is there some greater being who counts up the number of jammy goals and bad injuries each team gets before frantically handing out some fortune come April to remedy the situation ? Without getting bogged down with some of the major theological,spiritual and philosophical questions that have kept man busy for thousands of years,I'd say my arse there is.
And do good teams make their own luck ?Well the more times you're in your opponents half,the greater chance of getting a jammy goal,and no-one likes a manager who wheels out excuse after excuse,step forward Big Eck-scuse himself.But the fact is that for a spell in January and February Motherwell were unlucky in a number of games.It's frustrating to watch and you can be sure it's even more frustrating to play in.Look at the number of times we hit the post and bar,that's bad luck.That run left us with a bit of an uphill struggle.
And okay,we lost games we could and should have won,not just because we didn't score,but because we lost goals.We're losing a lot of goals partly because on the eve of the season we sold one of our two centre-halves and replaced him with youngsters (Kinniburgh and McLean) both good players but youngsters who will make the odd mistake because of a lack of experience and ruthlessness.And partly because minutes into the season we lost Scott Leitch,our captain,the leader of the team on the park,one of the most committed players I've seen in 25 years of supporting Motherwell,the man who allowed the rest of the midfield to go forward in the last few seasons,the man who protected the back four.There is no-one else at the club who can do that job,no-one else as ruthless, committed, strong in the tackle,as disciplined in that holding role.We have good central midfielders but they're not holding midfielders.I don't know how many last-minute goals he would have prevented by willing the team on when others got anxious,or how many goals he'd have helped prevent when players ran on from midfield to slip a killer pass through.Losing Leitch was bad luck.A big slice of bad luck.Losing Partridge was down to financial constraints,constraints we all know about,that we have to learn to live with.
We've had other injuries ( Paterson,Clarkson,Corrigan,Quinn,McCormack ).McBride has just come back from a very serious injury yet is expected to be as quick and strong as he was before.We barely had anyone to bring off the bench at the turn of the year yet Butcher gets it in the neck for not making changes.And who can say they have not actually enjoyed this season ?At Fir Park I don't think there has been a game I've not,on the whole,enjoyed watching.Okay, it's difficult to watch defeats but you have to expect the odd defeat when you watch the 'Well every week.Let's look back at the home matches this season;
Celtic 4-4 ?An amazing game if ultimately disappointing,lost goals because Hartson was too strong for us and the last goal was probably down to that inexperience just mentioned.
Dunfermline 1-0 and Livingston 1-0 were victories.Not to be sniffed at.
Hamilton 2-1 with a very inexperienced team and a good second-half show. A derby cup win.
Dundee United 4-5 ultimately disappointing but value for money at least.
Hibs 1-3 was disappointing the way we lost a sloppy goal from a corner but we were up against the best counter-attacking team in the league,the only time we've been well beaten at home.
Celtic 1-3 and Rangers 0-1 we were unlucky not to score more in both these games.
Hearts 1-1 deserved three points,inexperience cost us a penalty late on.
Killie 2-2 again deserved the points on balance of play but lost a late goal,poor defending from crosses ( experience ? )
Aberdeen 1-0 and 3-1Pumped a side with more money than us.Twice.
Dundee Utd 2-0Three points,a clean sheet against better-paid players.
Inverness 0-2Missed chances cost us,but the effort and build-up play were there.
There's not one game of football where Motherwell haven't either won or played some good football,created a lot of chances,with the possible exception of the Hibs game when we at least had the consolation of seeing a team of young Scots play some good football.And we've won four SPL games away from home,there have been some shockers on the road but again but with inexperience at the heart of our team is that such a surprise ?
If we do make the Top Six for the third consecutive year,for only the second time in the post-war era,it will be by overcoming teams with much higher budgets(Aberdeen and Dundee United).It will be in the face of injuries,financial constraints,posts and crossbars,inexperience.And it will have to be by the skin of our teeth - since we're a few points off the pace,that's to say the Motherwell way.
Possibly three Top Six finishes in a row for the first time since 1961,a cup final and two semi-finals in four seasons,players representing their country,goals galore.This is Motherwell,it's a rollercoaster.Sit back and enjoy the ride and stop moaning about the downs,by the nature of the beast there's an up just around the corner.
Visit the GLF archive. Hundreds of articles.