PREDICTED LEAGUE FINISH: Fourth
LAST SEASON: 2nd, 70pts
NOTABLE INS: Lionel Ainsworth (Rotherham United, loan made permanent), Josh Law (Alfreton Town), Dan Twardzik (Dundee)
NOTABLE OUTS: Henri Anier (Erzgebirge Aue), Shaun Hutchinson (Fulham), Lee Hollis, James McFadden, Euan Murray, Dale Shirkie, Ross Stewart
LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (departed players crossed out): Nielsen, Ramsden, McManus,
Motherwell's summer has seen a lack of any exciting summer transfer activity, followed by a couple of pretty lousy performances which culminated in an early European exit. Their fans could be forgiven for having a sense of deja vu, given that the above sentence could have been a summary of both this July and last.
That didn't seem to do them any harm last season though. After finishing second in 2012-13, the Steelmen were unable to keep critical players such as Michael Higdon, Tom Hateley, Nicky Law, Darren Randolph, Henrik Ojamaa and Chris Humphrey. And yet they came second again. With more points. Despite time finally catching up with the now-departed James McFadden.
You've got to admit that's impressive.
McCall certainly knows how to get the best out of players - he has transformed John Sutton back into the deadly striker that he was before a woeful spell at Hearts - and he knows how to grind out results too. There weren't too many imperious performances last season. There were, however, plenty of wins...except in cup competitions, which remain the manager's achilles heel. He has won just one cup match in thirteen going back to March 2012. That's a bigger deal than you might think; a good league finish brings in money, but so do cup runs. And Motherwell have made no secret of the fact that, unless cashflow improves, they will need to cut costs in the near future.
At least they don't have too many important departures to deal with this time around. Only Shaun Hutchinson, who has earned a move to Fulham, will prove a task to replace; the defeat to Stjarnan suggests that slotting Simon Ramsden (a revelation at right back last season) back into the middle and playing Craig Reid on the flank probably isn't the answer. With Adam Cummins having regressed, another centre back is a must.
At least it'll be another season or two before time catches up with Steven McManus and Stevie Hammell. And Motherwell are bound to concede fewer simply because they've procured a decent goalkeeper. Neither Gunnar Nielsen nor Lee Hollis impressed between the sticks, so the former has been demoted and the latter released to make space for Dan Twardzik. Signing a Dundee reserve may not sound impressive, but the Czech impressed as an emergency loanee at Christmas and, at 23, he has plenty of scope for improvement too. He could prove an inspired acquisition.
The only other new face is Josh Law, brought in from the English non-leagues. The younger brother of Nicky, he scored twice on his debut but is hugely inferior to his brother. He'll have to do for the time being, unless another forward is brought in to play off Sutton. With McFadden and Henri Anier gone (the Estonian tailed off after a promising start, and earned the club a nice transfer fee), and Bob McHugh failing to live up to previous high hopes, there may be an opportunity for young Lee Erwin to stake his claim. More likely, though, McCall will bring in a new face or two.
The most important deal he did this summer, though, was to permanently sign Lionel Ainsworth; the winger's arrival at the end of August 2013 was the spark the team needed, particularly with his penchant for spectacular strikes. Without him there is a real lack of width, given that Iain Vigurs tends to tuck in from the opposite flank. In central midfield, Stuart Carswell should pick up where he left off after establishing himself as a first choice last season. However, captain Keith Lasley is 35 in September, and whilst he was fine last year, he gave away three penalties in the two Stjarnan games. An alternative may be needed; Paul Lawson, who doesn't seem to fit into the team's system, probably isn't it, but young Jack Leitch might be.
In truth, I've got plenty of evidence that I could use to justify predicting a drop down the table for Motherwell. And yet recent history suggests that they'll bring in a couple of effective new faces by the end of August and do just fine. Why would this year be so much different?
THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1993 in italics)
Goalkeepers: Gunnar Nielsen, Dan Twardzik
Defenders: Adam Cummins, Stevie Hammell, Fraser Kerr, Stephen McManus, Simon Ramsden, Craig Reid
Midfielders: Lionel Ainsworth, Chris Cadden, Stuart Carswell, Zaine Francis-Angol, Keith Lasley, Josh Law, Paul Lawson, Jack Leitch, Iain Vigurs
Forwards: Lee Erwin, Bob McHugh, Craig Moore, John Sutton
THE BEST XI?
(comments from Twitter)
@Nareystoepoker pretty good that. If Well finish second this year Stuart should get a knighthood. No money, no players, low crowds. Magician
— Sir Donald McBride (@DonaldMcBride) August 3, 2014