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Motherwell season preview: Will Steelmen enjoy more league success?

After consecutive runners-up finishes, is this as good as it gets for the Steelmen?

Keith Lasley
SNS Group

A new term is upon us and Motherwell's European adventure is already over for another season.

Despite qualifying for continental competition in six of the last seven seasons, the agonising defeat to Stjarnan in Iceland will take a while to get over.

Such is the spirit around the club, nobody at Fir Park takes success for granted nor do they tend to get too low over defeats.

The biggest change off the park has seen chief executive Leeann Dempster depart for Hibernian with media officer Alan Burrows stepping up to the role of General Manager.

If things go as smoothly on the park as they have off it, then Motherwell fans will have another season to savour.

How did they fare last term

It may sound bizarre given their league position but there remains a feeling that Motherwell’s achievements during 2014/15 weren’t fully recognized.

After an almighty summer clearout in 2013, Motherwell’s ability to secure another second place finish truly was remarkable.

On a tight budget the Fir Park men pulled off a dramatic, if controversial, 1-0 last day win over Aberdeen at Pittodrie.

A look at the numbers reinforces this fine feat. Motherwell gained 70 points, securing 22 wins from 38 matches.

Motherwell only drew four games all season and reached second despite conceding 60 goals, by far the leakiest back line in the top half of the table.

Summer transfers

In: Josh Law (Alfreton Town), Dan Twardzik (Dundee), Lionel Ainsworth (Rotherham)
Out: James McFadden, Henri Anier (Erzgebirge Aue), Shaun Hutchinson (Fulham)

It pales in comparison to last year's overhaul but key players have still departed Fir Park.

The departure of promising defender Shaun Hutchinson was expected while the club couldn't turn down the chance to make a profit on Henri Anier despite his fine contribution last year.

Bringing Lionel Ainsworth back seems like shrewd business while Josh Law has already made a favourable impression to make fans forget all about his brother Nicky.

How should they fare?

After back-to-back second place finishes the expectation would be for another top six spot.

It remains to be seen how Motherwell respond to losing in Iceland but supporters seem aware that holding off Aberdeen and Dundee United this term could be a step too far.

The Steelmen support lapped up their last day win at Pittodrie, understanding exactly how well that group of players had done.

After watching Kilmarnock, St Mirren and St Johnstone lift silverware in recent years, there’s a feeling that supporters and staff would welcome a strong cup run this term.

Key men

John Sutton
SNS

John Sutton

Replacing the 2012/13 PFA Player of the Year Michael Higdon appeared a thankless task 12 months ago.

Twenty-two goals later and John Sutton’s Motherwell return looks like a masterstroke.

After two torrid years with Hearts there were many doubters who felt the 30-year-old was on a downward spiral. But Sutton responded in fine fashion, netting crucial goals that made the difference in the race for Europe.

Sutton’s goals turned tight games in Motherwell’s favour and four goals in the final six matches were key in keeping his team in the mix.

In addition to his goals, Sutton helps bring team-mates into play and his partnership with Henri Anier proved to be very fruitful.

Stuart McCall
SNS

Manager

Despite suffering his lowest day in football in 2013/14, Stuart McCall reinforced his reputation as one of the Scottish Premiership’s best bosses.

Having turned down the chance to escape for Sheffield United McCall reshaped his side following the departures of Darren Randolph, Nicky Law, Chris Humphrey, Henrik Ojamaa and Michael Higdon.

Showing his nous in the market, Lionel Ainsworth added the addition of pace and goals that was desperately lacking early in the campaign.

Henri Anier often found the net throughout the campaign and was the perfect foil for John Sutton in attack. McCall’s man management skills were on display as he helped Iain Vigurs emerge from his early term slump to become a key part of the midfield engine room.

He even had the guts to drop fans’ favourite James McFadden when it became clear the former Scotland star didn’t fit into his system as well as more unheralded members of the squad.

McCall’s coaching education has continued as part of Gordon Strachan’s Scotland staff.

His record in domestic cups and in Europe show plenty of room for improvement but there’s little doubt Motherwell are in safe hands with McCall at the helm.

Fan's view

Kris Jack is a football and ice hockey writer for STV and commentates for Motherwell FC TV.

"Having finished last season as "Best of the Rest", there had been much optimism surrounding Fir Park in the aftermath of Craig Reid's late, but perfectly legal, goal at Pittodrie on the last day of the season.

"The "£250,000 Goal" as it was christened led to calls for Reid to be signed up quick smart, along with other loan star Lionel Ainsworth, so as to have as settled a squad as possible before playing the Europa League qualifiers that glorious victory had sealed.

"For the first time in a long time, Europe would be attacked by and large by the same squad that had earned the right to play on the continent. With a team familiar enough with one another to be fighting fit for whatever the Euro draw would offer up, with only one and a half new faces to bed in, there was a decent amount of pre-season optimism around Motherwell.

"However, coming second, being seeded and having a settled squad ultimately meant hee-haw, as the European campaign lasted a frustrating and embarrassing 210 minutes.

"Since then, the club have been scrambling to organise some warm up games ahead of the new season's kick off next weekend. There's been a radio silence from the club in the aftermath; no news of signings, nothing on MFCTV, no word on how the defeat has been viewed at player and club level.

"The fans, or at least those with access to a keyboard, have had plenty to say on the debacle across forums and Twitter, but the hurt and embarrassment has forced a low profile from the club for the last week.

"Based on the Stjarnan games and the 2-0 friendly loss to Fulham, it looks like it could be much of the same this season for The Steelmen. Last season's second place was earned by scoring more goals than were lost, with a heavy emphasis on the goals conceded column. Only just managing to scrape a positive goal difference, Stuart McCall's ethos of trying to be entertaining going forward, as long as the win is achieved, worked to an extent.

"As for Stuart McCall, there's no doubting his league credentials, but his lack of nous in knockout competitions has returned to haunt him very early on this season.

"As the ghost of Albion Rovers was just about exorcised, part- time Stjarnan came along to put the willies up him once more.

"The money made from finishing second is all but gone and the cash lost from not getting to the next round, has made being able to bring in anyone of note that little bit harder.

"With all of Motherwell's peers strengthening their squads and making mega bucks off their youngsters, it'd be easy to suggest that things may not pan out as well as they did last year for the Steelmen, and as a "rollercoaster" club to follow, they are probably due the inevitable big dip at some point.

"Stjarnan may have already provided that, which will hopefully lead to what all Well fans want and would probably settle for; a decent cup run and a top six finish."

Odds (without Celtic): 5/1

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