GLF 53: Stuart looks back a while.
Make or Break…
As we began to emerge from the cloud of administration, Terry Butcher and Maurice Malpas assembled a disciplined and energetic squad that exceeded all expectations last season. Despite the devastating loss of McFadden and Pearson, we deservedly finished in the Top Six for the first time since the SPL’s introduction of the league split.The old adage “every cloud has a silver lining” has never been better illustrated from a claret and amber perspective.
Unquestionably, the admirable work ethic and team spirit installed by the management team was the key to our success last year!!Nevertheless, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the invaluable contributions of the following individuals:
Delboy finally silenced the boo - boys last year with an endless string of inspiring performances.Building on his decent season in 2002 / 2003, Adams eventually showed why Kampmann and Nevin parted with £ 175 k for the Ross County goal machine all those years ago.
Taking the playmaker role by the scruff of the neck, Adams was a revelation in our midfield!!His vision and passing ability provided a platform for the young lads to play attractive football, and at times we played the opposition off the park. Furthermore, he recaptured his eye for goal and crucially hit the back of the net on a regular basis. (His screamer at Parkhead will live long in the memory!! ).
The pivotal moment in Derek’s season emerged from the loss of Scott Leitch at the turn of the year.While we all worried about our lack of midfield options, Adams appeared to thrive on the added responsibility of his midfield role, and admirably guided us to the Top Six.As he continued to look impressive in the Motherwell engine room however, Derek inevitably received praise from a growing number of admirers across Scotland.Ultimately, Stevie Paterson promptly snapped him up as his Fir Park contract neared expiry.Adams is clearly delighted that his good form has been rewarded with a return to his boyhood heroes.
Admittedly, his departure to Pittodrie was hard to stomach at the time.However, Derek should be applauded for committing himself to the club during the most traumatic spell in our history.Despite the torrent of abuse he had to endure from a section of our support,Adams agreed to take a pay cut when we were plunged into administration and continued to give 100 % on the park.Unlike Stevie Craig, I understand his desire to move north and wish him all the best.
For those of you who fancy a flutter, make sure you lump a few quid on Derek to score when Jimmy Calderwood brings his troops down to Fir Park !!
When I got Lasley 4 printed on my new away shirt last summer,it was inevitable that Keith would soon follow the path of McFadden and Pearson.After having the previous season curtailed by injury, the dynamic midfielder fulfilled his potential last year and was instrumental in our success.
I recall Billy Davies giving Keith a surprise debut in a 2 - 0 defeat at Ibrox.However, it wasn’t until Eric Black moved into the hotseat that I realised we had a superb talent in our ranks.Rarely have I seen such a young midfielder be blessed with so much composure on the ball.Always bursting with energy, he exhibits great determination and is not frightened to put a tackle in.With so many qualities in his locker, it was only a matter of time before he caught the eye north and south of the border. Eventually, Keith was persuaded to move to newly promoted Plymouth Argyle, where Bobby Williamson has assembled a squad with a healthy SPL contingent.
In the current football climate, it is refreshing to see that characters such as Lasley still exist.Unlike his pal Pearson,Keith negotiated the concluding months of his Motherwell career with great dignity and refused to comment on mounting transfer speculation while Motherwell were still paying his wages.Indeed, his commitment and love of Motherwell were reflected in his Fir Park finale against the SPL Champions.Relishing the central midfield berth, Lasley displayed all his attributes and totally outshone the likes of Lennon and Man United starlet Liam Miller.It was fitting that this devoted lad concluded his Fir Park career with one of his best performances in a ‘Well jersey.My only regret is that Butcher could not allocate him a more central role on a regular basis.
Best of luck Keith !!You were a true gent on and off the park.I’m sure quite a few ‘Well fans will closely follow your progress down on the south coast.I’ll always remember you for scoring a screamer past Stefan Klos on my 18th Birthday…
Browsing through the back pages of the Daily Record one morning, I nearly choked on my cornflakes when I read that Butcher had acquired Alex Burns and Stephen Craigan !!While the former has failed to convince the doubters in his second spell at Fir Park, Craigan was inspirational last season.Our SPL competitors looked on with envy as Craggo swiftly formed a formidable partnership with Kaiser at the heart of our defence.Along with big Marsh,Craigan guided the defence through every game and subsequently provided a strong foundation for the midfielders and strikers to attack with confidence.
His time spent away from Fir Park has definitely benefited him.In his first spell at the club, he was a committed and determined individual.However, it was questionable whether he had the ability to impose himself in the top flight. Consequently, we must thank our “friends” at Firhill for grooming one of our youngsters and moulding him into a commanding centre-half !?!
Although rarely sporting the captains’ armband, Stephen was THE man who led by example and ultimately drove our young guns to success. Courtesy of his inspirational performances, it was inevitable that the big Irishman would be voted our Player of the Year. All fans love to see a guy who will run through a brick wall for their club!! Four games into the new campaign, Stephen has maintained his high level of performance. Hopefully the board will be able to offer our future captain a new contract sooner rather than later.
Thanks to consistently putting in towering displays, Craigan is one of the first names on more than one team sheet nowadays. Lawrie Sanchez quickly recognised Craigan’s credentials and he is now an integral part of the most successful Northern Ireland team in recent years.
Adams, Lasley and Craigan all enjoyed a phenomenal season last year. For various reasons however, we were unsure what to expect from them at the beginning of the season.So what players can we expect to make a big impact this season??I’m turning my attention to three guys whose careers are approaching a crossroads. The following three players have all came along the much celebrated youth development conveyor belt at Fir Park.Since they have been at Fir Park for a number of years now, these lads may well view this season as a make or break phase in their careers.Undoubtedly, they will be eager to enhance their prospects during the course of 2004 / 2005:
Remember Iain Ross ??Of course you do!He was the promising young midfielder who sent the Claret & Amber faithful into ecstasy with an injury time winner against the Hoops in the“Jamie Dolan ” match.Unfortunately, I fear young Sean may be remembered in a similar fashion to Ross, if he fails to make an impression on the first team this season.I’m sure Fagan would be the first to admit that his career has stalled somewhat since scoring against Celtic one glorious September evening.
Admittedly, he has shown in flashes how good he can be.Due to a string of injuries however, these flashes have been few and far between. Arguably, Sean’s best spell for the club was in February 2003.Blossoming in central midfield, he pulled out a couple of outstanding displays in our victorious Fir Park double header against Hibs and Dunfermline.At the time, it looked as if Sean had rewarded Butcher’s faith in him, and I was optimistic that we had unearthed a box-to-box gem.Unfortunately, he soon picked up an injury in an Under 21 game and his career has been stop start ever since.
Recovering from his injury woes, Fagan returned to the fray towards the end of last season.However, it was evident that he had been absent for a lengthy spell as he never managed to catch the pace of the games.So we moved into the new season with the ‘Well faithful giving Sean the benefit of the doubt.
Despite having a pre - season under his belt, the midfielder’s performances against Celtic and Hibs illustrated little improvement on the lethargic displays prior to the summer break.Indeed, it was no surprise that the incoming Kevin McBride soon replaced him on the right flank.In fairness to the lad though, his style of play is not suited to the flanks.Personally, I think Sean is not too dissimilar to Simo Valakari. With energy in abundance,Fagan is a tenacious wee fella that will get in about the opposition and break up attacks.Furthermore, in stark contrast to our favourite Finn, he also possesses a goal threat as he has the knack of getting on the ball in and around the box.
At the moment Fagan has found himself back on the bench.However, he just needs to be patient.Assuming that O’Donnell and Leitch have renewed their complimentary season tickets for Wishaw General, an opportunity will arise in his favoured central midfield slot.Grasp the opportunity with both hands Sean!!If not, your days in the top flight may be numbered.Just ask Iain Ross.
In similar fashion to the aforementioned Sean Fagan, Willie has been on the fringes of the first team for a good two years.After watching him against a cosmopolitan Dundee team at the end of the 2001 /2002 season,I warmed to the 17 year old defender instantly.
Despite lacking the traditional physical presence of a centre-half, Kinniburgh has illustrated that he has the ability to cope with the demands of the SPL.Indeed,his composed displays show that he has an excellent football brain,which more than compensates for his lack of brute strength.
To my surprise, Willie’s potential has failed to nail down a more regular spot in the first team.Back in 2002 / 2003, I thought he had made the breakthrough.Faddy got the headlines in our 1 - 0 Boxing Day victory over the Teddy Bears,however it was our young defender that was largely responsible for shutting out Mols, Lovenkrands & Co.Within a fortnight, Willie maintained his good form with a wonderful display at Rugby Park.With a second clean sheet, it looked like the impressive Kinniburgh was the perfect solution for our leaky defence.
However,the arrival of Tony Vaughan appeared to hamper Willie’s progress. Playing second fiddle to Butcher’s new signing; it was unclear whether the lad had a future at Fir Park.Then last season,he never got a look in.Hardly surprising though, as few defenders could have displaced the excellent Corrigan and Craigan.Consequently, Butcher farmed him out to Somerset Park in order to gain some first team experience. He clearly made an impression at Ayr as Rainer Bonhof called him into the Under 21 squad and Campbell Money was keen to keep him on a permanent basis.Thankfully, Willie was determined to return to Fir Park,and we are all reaping the benefits of his loan spell now.
Pre - season injuries to Partridge and Quinn presented Kinniburgh with the perfect opportunity to cement his place in the first team.By far our best player at Parkhead, he showed that he was unfazed by the daunting prospect of facing Sutton & Hartson. Indeed, he practically kept the big Welshman in his back pocket.Without doubt, Willie has a mature head on his young shoulders.
The big tester for the youngster will be consistency.So far we can have no complaints,as he keeps improving game by game. Willie is my prediction for POTY. While it's still early days, my tip is looking a fair bet !!Although Uncle Phil will run him close if he continues to roll back the years.
If you had asked me last year about the likelihood of Hammell extending his contract at Fir Park, I would have said that there was more chance of Greece conquering Europe !!What a bizarre year, eh?Thankfully, we start this season with one third of our magical left flank still here.Down the years, we have been blessed with outstanding left backs that like to venture forward-Hammy has certainly continued the trend in style.
We all know about Hammell’s qualities, yet a couple of years ago I wondered whether he could keep improving when there was little competition for the left back slot.After an indifferent season however, Stephen was back to his best last year and was a picture of consistency.In my eyes, he is probably the most important player in our team.If there is a more influential left back in the SPL, then I have yet to see him.Hammell instigates the vast majority of our attacks. 9 times out of 10, Marshall, Craigan & Co will cast their eye over to the left flank when they have possession of the ball.And we all know about his defensive capabilities.When it comes to the crunch, Stephen can outshine the best right wingers in the league.
Despite his tender age,Hammell is the longest serving player at the club.While his best pals were eager to move to bigger clubs, Hammell presumably concluded that an extended stay at Motherwell would enhance his career prospects.Now that he has bit the bullet and stayed at Fir Park, this is a colossal season for the full back.Will he take his game to a new level and ultimately win a move to the Old Firm or Premiership??I suppose we will just have to wait and see.In the meantime,I look forward to Stephen and ‘ Stepover ’ Paterson building up an understanding that will dazzle the East Stand this season.
Are you watching Herr Vogts??
Hopefully Sean, Willie and Stephen are among a host of players who realise their ambitions this season.As long as the lads replicate the commitment and enthusiasm that endeared them to the Claret & Amber faithful last year, then the future is bright down Fir Park Road.
KEEP THE FAITH
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