Although Motherwell picked up a vital 1-0 win over Dundee last weekend and remain on the cusp of finishing within the top six this season, there’s no denying that the fearless, swashbuckling side that took the Scottish Premiership by storm at the start of the season has somewhat burned out.
It’s worth noting that when we take a look at Stephen Robinson’s side and their form over the past 10 league games, only Partick Thistle, St Johnstone, Hamilton and Ross County have picked up fewer points.
‘Well fans may, at this point, stress that picking up more points than those four teams is exactly what their club should be doing – and they’d be absolutely right. But there’s no denying that since that run to the League Cup final things have looked a little off. Let’s see what the data says.
When we take a look at Motherwell’s form in the Premiership since the League Cup final we can see contrasting fortunes before and after that fateful game. Conveniently, Motherwell had played 14 games prior to their day at Hampden and have since played another 14 league games – giving us a nice, even spread of matches to compare and contrast.
Perhaps the most notably and worrying trend that seems to have developed since the final is Motherwell’s points per game (PPG) dropping from 1.64 down to 0.86 – which means Robinson’s side are now picking up exactly half as many points as they did in the first half of their season.
That turn in fortune can perhaps be best explained by the next two sets of data. Motherwell were scoring on average around 1.5 goals per game before the League Cup final and that figure has dropped down to 0.93 per game. While their defensive record has also jumped up to 1.62 goals conceded per game from a rather respectable 1.14.
So not only are Motherwell scoring fewer goals in each match, but they’re also conceded a lot more too. Which, as you’ve probably already clocked at this point, can have a pretty detrimental impact on Robinson’s team and their ability to pick up points.
So how come Motherwell’s form took such a nosedive? A skeptic (or Hamilton fan) would perhaps suggest that they simply began to believe their own hype and then reality struck, yet it’s more likely that the club’s huge injury problems directly after the final played a more significant part.
As we can see from the table above, which shows how many league games players missed after matchday 16, a number of Robinson’s key men picked up injuries and were out for notable periods of time.
Trevor Carson, the club’s main goalkeeper, missed three game and their energetic right winger, Chris Cadden, missed four full matches. While Ryan Bowman, Louis Moult and Elliott Frear all missed five games between December and January. And Peter Hartley, the club’s central-defensive leader, missed a massive eight games. A serious chunk of time that would impact any Premiership club.
Although it’s impossible to tell what exactly caused all of these injuries, it’s probably fair to assume that a run to the League cup final that included hard-fought wins over Ross County, Aberdeen and Rangers played a significant part.
There’s also the significant point of Moult leaving the club in January. Although Motherwell did superbly well to bring in strikers such as Nadir Ciftci and Curtis Main, the English forward’s departure has played a part in their GSPG ratio dropping so significantly.
Another point that may be worth noting is the psychological impact Motherwell’s tripleheader with Celtic clearly had on Robinson’s side. Not only did the Fir Park side go toe-to-toe with Celtic in the League Cup but also managed to hold the champions to a 1-1 draw in front of their own fans just three days later.
However, a third and final test against Brendan Rodgers’ team at Celtic Park followed just three days after that and by then it was clear that Motherwell – like any team in the Premiership – had ran out of juice to compete and continue trying to match the best team in the country. In a performance that showcased their physical and mental exhaustion, Motherwell were forced to succumb to a humbling 5-1 defeat.
In the six games that followed, Motherwell picked up just one point and it wasn’t until a winter break in Spain, and a notable break from the league calendar, that Robinson’s side were able to get their heads screwed back on. In their first match back they won 2-0 over their rivals, Hamilton, and have gone on to lose just two of their eight matches since.
Motherwell may finally have gotten over their hellish experience with the League Cup final and what followed with Celtic afterwards, but there’s no doubt that it took a serious chunk out of their form and standing in the league table.