PREDICTED LEAGUE FINISH: NINTH
NOTABLE INS: Jacob Blyth (Leicester City), Dean Brill (Inverness Caledonian Thistle), Craig Clay (Grimsby Town), Ben Heneghan (Chester City), Lee Lucas (Swansea City), Carl McHugh (Plymouth Argyle), Richard Tait (Grimsby Town)
NOTABLE OUTS: Ben Hall (Brighton & Hove Albion, £200k), Stephen Pearson (Atletico de Kolkata, £100k), David Clarkson (St. Mirren, loan made permanent), Josh Law (Oldham Athletic), Craig Moore (Ayr United, loan), Morgaro Gomis (Heart of Midlothian, end of loan), Connor Ripley (Middlesbrough, end of loan), Wes Fletcher, Jack Leitch
LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (Departed players crossed out):
This was arguably the hardest preview to write; I felt (and still feel) like there wasn't much between the clubs that finished fourth and eleventh last season. Sure, Motherwell finished a very respectable fifth last season. However, as late as mid-February they were not only eleventh, but looked like strong candidates for a second successive relegation playoff. Then they won at Tannadice, and were victorious in five of their next six (with a little luck along the way), and they made the right side of the split.
So which is the true Motherwell - the one that went on that great run, or the one that stank the place out over winter? I just don't know. But last season's side did have Stephen Pearson racing around the midfield. Sadly for 'Well, Pearson took up the chance of (literally) an Indian summer, and replacing that workrate will be difficult. Mark McGhee has brought in two 'trialists' on short-term contracts, but it's unclear if Lee Lucas or Craig Clay fit the bill.
The great end-of-season form came primarily because of some outstanding attacking play, with McGhee hitting the jackpot on a front three of Marvin Johnson, Scott McDonald and Louis Moult. Johnson is a big favourite of mine; one of the fastest players in Scotland, and last season he started contributing an end product with both goals and assists. Add in McDonald's veteran nous and Moult's impressive poaching and you had a great combination.
They seem to have picked up from where they left off with seven League Cup goals between them, but Moult will miss the start of the league campaign after having groin surgery. Meanwhile, McDonald - who nearly signed for Hibs this summer - is being courted by clubs from his native Australia. With only new, unproven targetman Jacob Blyth as an alternative, there is a worrying lack of depth.
McGhee's summer activity has been understandably focused on the weakest area of the squad - the defence. Losing talented youngster Ben Hall hasn't helped. But Richard Tait is a solid right-back and, with the help of Stephen McManus alongside him, Ben Heneghan could become the latest English non-leaguer to thrive in the Premiership. And, as always, Stevie Hammell will turn up at left-back. Whether they are strong enough in goal is a moot point; Connor Ripley returned to Middlesbrough, leaving a contest between Craig Samson, last year's backup, and Dean Brill. Brill has missed more than a year with a knee injury, though he was decent enough for Inverness before that.
Holding player Carl McHugh, acquired from Plymouth, should improve the defensive record too, though a midfield trio of McHugh, Keith Lasley (37 in September!) and Chris Cadden sounds solid rather than spectacular. If the aforementioned trialists don't impress, then expect another body or two to be evaluated.
And what of Lionel Ainsworth? The mercurial winger was in and out of the side last season, not quite able to force his way into a lop-sided front three, nor competent enough defensively to play in a three or four-man midfield. The question as ever is whether it is worth putting up with entire games where he contributes little because of his ability to create and score goals out of nothing. McGhee's not really a fan of those sort of players, though.
So, yeah, prediction time. If Motherwell finished fifth again, I wouldn't be all that surprised. I would be if they were in the bottom two, however. So somewhere in between seems right for The Steelmen.
THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1995 in italics)
Goalkeepers: Dean Brill, Craig Samson
Defenders: Joe Chalmers, David Ferguson, Steven Hammell, Ben Heneghan, Kieran Kennedy, Louis Laing, Stephen McManus, Richard Tait, Luke Watt
Midfielders: Lionel Ainsworth, Chris Cadden, Marvin Johnson, Keith Lasley, Ross MacLean, Carl McHugh, Dom Thomas
Forwards: Jacob Blyth, Dylan Mackin, Scott McDonald, James McFadden, Louis Moult
THE BEST XI?
Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.