What an amazing turn of events at Fir Park these past few months and, strange as it may seem, we are actually in far better shape than I think anyone of us thought we would be after Boxing Day 2009 and it’s events.
Jim Gannon came to Fir Park with the promise of better days ahead and, initially, that’s what happened. There was a freshness about the team which had been absent for so long, youth was getting it’s needy chance, and we were actually beginning to look forward to the season with renewed optimism instead of the depression which had sunk in after McGhee’s inevitable departure. Thing was, behind the scenes, it appeared that Mr Gannon was not at all committed to his role at Fir Park.
Rumours abounded about his intentions, indeed one surfaced regarding the Under 19s and how he very, very rarely watched them play. Not only that, there was also the disappearing acts which regularly occurred, especially for a week after we lost so heavily at Ibrox. It wasn’t all bad, of course, and at the start of his tenure we played some stunning football, annihilating that Albanian mob with a magnificent performance. And there have been some good acquisitions on the playing side with Ruddy and Jutkiewicz absolutely vital to our progress now.
I know full well that loyalty in football is about as rare as hen’s teeth almost, but given what we had with Mr McGhee and his constant tarting of himself for other jobs, the last thing we needed was someone else so determined to be elsewhere.
And, ultimately, that is what we had with Jim Gannon. The club gave him his way back into football, much like Mark McGhee, and he refused to give something back in the shape of commitment. It was a dark time on Boxing Day, wondering just where the club would go from here. However, the club (and John Boyle) pulled off a masterstroke with the appointment of Craig Brown and Archie Knox.
Vast, vast experience and a calming influence which has worked absolute wonders. There was the blip in the cup, these things happen and whilst it was a big disappointment, the cup is always a bonus. The bread and butter of the league, the most crucial thing to any team during a season, is currently proving to be the complete opposite of the nightmare it was in December. During Gannon’s last five games in charge, we lost all five and were hammered right, left and centre. The team had lost its spirit, they club had a massive sore which was draining the life out of it from inside out.
Soon as he left, we’ve now gone (up to and including Hamilton at Fir Park) five league games unbeaten. Won four, drawn one, lost not a single goal whilst rattling in 9 at the other end. That’s seen us go from flirting with the bottom couple of rungs in the SPL to just six points off fourth place.
Credit to John Boyle surely for this, and for making funds available to ensure both Craig and Knox are tied up to 18 month contracts and key players like Ruddy and Jutkiewicz are here for at least the season. Brown and Knox have recognised how you do need some experience in there, with Crags coming back in and looking tremendous, organising the defence in such a manner that to score a goal against us, you really have to make it good.
Things are looking positive, and although we are now on our third management team in just over six months, this time we appear to have security and stability instead of folk wanting a simple stepping stone to something else.
The club, as we all know, spent an absolute fortune in the summer with a brand new pitch and went to great lengths to ensure we got it right. Indeed, we all saw the pictures as the progress was charted on the official website. It looked brilliant at the start of the season, and for a good part of it.
What couldn’t be factored in was the worst winter in almost 40 years which happened at just the wrong time for a completely new park. January’s mean temp in this area was -0.2C, and we had a prolonged spell of temps which fell well below -10C. Undersoil heating apparently won’t work properly below -7C, and it was like that for over three weeks.
The covers had to be on which didn’t allow the pitch to breathe to ensure games went ahead, hardly the club’s fault. And now, thanks to the elements which here have been well beyond our control, the park is a patchwork quilt. It’s taking more criticism than any other pitch in the country in the past few years despite the fact certain other pitches have looked like the surface of a beach (Ibrox springs to mind in recent years).
Seems we are an easy target for some. I can recall Ibrox and how you could count the blades of grass on it on one hand literally. Perhaps mistakes have been made, maybe not, but what I do doubt is that the club have deliberately allowed the pitch to get into its condition.
With the resources we have, I’m pretty certain those responsible for the pitch have done their utmost to get it in the best nick possible. It sometimes seems that some people just latch onto any reason to get tore into the club. Be they fans, or the media, any excuse is justified. Aye, the club should take criticism when it’s deserved and all the facts are there for all to see, but it seems to me that on this occasion, the new pitch has suffered from extreme weather.
How many other clubs up and down the country have gone to the lengths Motherwell have the past year? Celtic and Rangers can afford a new pitch every few months and also to spend large amounts on its upkeep, we can’t.
It’s been a funny old SPL this season; currently Hibs are hot on the tail of a poor Celtic side with Rangers sitting 10 points clear. Just behind are Dundee United, but given they have just appointed a certain Mr Hegarty as first team coach, look for them going on the slide. Realistically, I’d say fourth place is definitely up for grabs and within our reach.
Third might be just a step to far just now, especially given Hibs options up front means they are going to score regularly. They are up at Fir Park today and beating them would be a tremendous result I’d say. Anything is possible in football, and before each and every game I always think we’ve got a chance. Any team has, football is a seriously funny old game during which anything can happen. No matter the millions spent, it’s not the first time a seemingly inferior team in all departments has shown off its more illustrious opponents.
It’s the big run up towards the split now. We’re now in the driving seat for a top six place and have in place a management team who I believe can take us there. All about belief and backing, support and the results will come.
Keep backing the ‘Well, you know it makes sense!
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