Saturday, August 4, 2018

2018/19 Premiership preview - Motherwell

Motherwell FC crest.svg

LAST SEASON: Seventh, 48pts

NOTABLE INS: Liam Donnelly (Hartlepool United), Mark Gillespie (Walsall), Danny Johnson (Gateshead), Neil McLaughlin (Partick Thistle), Alex Rodriguez (Sepsi Stantu Gheorghe), Aaron Taylor-Sinclair (Plymouth Argyle), Conor Sammon (Heart of Midlothian, loan)

NOTABLE OUTS: Russell Griffiths (AFC Fylde), Cedric Kipre (Wigan Athletic), Deimantas Petravicius (Falkirk), Shea Gordon (Partick Thistle, loan), Jake Hastie (Alloa Athletic, loan), Ross MacLean (Greenock Morton, loan), Neil McLaughlin (Stirling Albion, loan), Tom Aldred (Bury, end of loan), Nadir Ciftci (Celtic, end of loan), Stephen Hendrie (Southend United, end of loan), Ellis Plummer, Luke Watt

LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (Departed players crossed out): Carson, Tait, Aldred, Kipre, Hartley, Dunne, Cadden, McHugh, Campbell, Main, Moult

There is a fair bit of optimism in the air at Fir Park. Fair enough - they're coming off a campaign where they reached two cup semi-finals and finished comfortably in mid-table.

Can they kick on further? The fans certainly think so. Manager Stephen Robinson thinks so too. But it will be hard, not least because however astute the club are run, their budget is not in the same league as Aberdeen or the Edinburgh clubs, let alone the Gruesome Twosome. And like the other six clubs in the division, the first priority always has to be to stay clear of the drop.

Motherwell should be confident of that happening, unless there is some sort of implosion in form and attitude. Whether they can finish higher than last season will probably depend on what sort of goal threat they offer.

Louis Moult's goals were always going to be difficult to replace, and in fact Robinson did quite well to come up with Curtis Main, a battering ram who scored eight times after arriving in January, as well as bullying many a centre-back into submission.

But other players weren't hitting the net sufficiently, to the point that Moult was the top scorer despite playing his last game for the club on 2 December. Ryan Bowman managed to score ten in all competitions but he doesn't look like a good fit alongside Main, given that he is taller but less strong and neither offer much in the way of movement or pace. Bowman has been linked with a move away, whilst Nadir Ciftci showed only brief flashes in a loan spell and is long gone.

In come two new options, Danny Johnson and Conor Sammon. The latter is a surprising arrival on loan and has done precious little in recent years to justify any faith in him. Johnson is a busy player who had a good goalscoring record at Gateshead...but so did Bowman before he moved north. Ultimately, the best option in the squad to partner Main is probably Craig Tanner, but he may not return from a knee injury for several months yet.

Elsewhere there are few question marks. Robinson tended to use a back three for most of the second half of last season which could easily switch to a back four if necessary, though only Elliott Frear is the only natural winger available. The loss of Tom Aldred will be offset by the return from injury of new club captain Peter Hartley, but the loss in recent days of Charles Dunne to injury and then, on the eve of the new campaign, Cedric Kipre to Wigan Athletic suddenly leave gaping holes. Carl McHugh may drop into the backline as a stopgap solution, but the sizeable fee for Kipre needs invested in a replacement pronto.

New boys Liam Donnelly and Aaron Taylor-Sinclair are comfortable both as full-backs and wing-backs, though Donnelly will struggle to dislodge the extremely underrated Richard Tait on the right flank. Taylor-Sinclair always used to look good back in his Partick Thistle days and may provide better balance in a 3-5-2 than Frear.

In the middle of the park there's no shortage of options either. Chris Cadden has steadily continued his upward trajectory and surely won't be around for much longer. Allan Campbell came to prominence last year and the tigrish midfielder, who only turned 20 this summer, should only get better. With Campbell, Liam Grimshaw, McHugh and Andy Rose the Steelmen have, er, no shortage of midfield steel.  (I'm sorry, I'll stop doing this now).

It would be nice to have a creative player in there, mind. Tanner could fill that role when he returns, but with Gael Bigirimana failing to live up to his pedigree from his Newcastle days Robinson will hope Alex Rodriguez Gorrin, a Spanish midfielder long coveted by the boss, proves an astute signing.

All in all, Motherwell look to be in decent nick for the new campaign. Will that be enough to separate that from the teams around them, or to turn them into this season's Kilmarnock? That's surely the target.

THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1997 in italics)
Goalkeepers: Trevor Carson, Rohan Ferguson, Mark Gillespie
Defenders: Liam Donnelly, Charles Dunne, Peter Hartley, Adam Livingstone, Barry Maguire, Richard Tait, Aaron Taylor-Sinclair
Midfielders: Gael Bigirimana, Liam Brown, Chris Cadden, Allan Campbell, Elliott Frear, Liam Grimshaw, Carl McHugh, Alex Rodriguez Gorrin, Andy Rose, Craig Tanner, David Turnbull
Forwards: Ryan Bowman, Danny Johnson, Curtis Main, George Newell, Connor Sammon, James Scott


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.

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