It’s been a fairly low-key summer at Fir Park so far. Five new players have…
Last season, opponents braced themselves for impact when travelling to Fir Park. There they would face Stephen Robinson’s Motherwell, a relentless outfit who defended tenaciously and attacked with an unwavering directness. Their tactical approach was brutally efficient for the most part, helping them to seventh place in the Scottish Premiership and two cup finals. It was as positive a season a top-flight club – outside of the Old Firm, of course – could possibly hope for without registering a top-six finish or a piece of silverware.
The challenge for Robinson now is to build on that success. His first three months at the club were geared towards ensuring survival, and his first full campaign at the helm was predominantly about cup runs. Now he will be aiming to guide his side further up the league table, and potentially – if the opportunity arises – to seal the trophy they narrowly missed on two separate occasions last term.
Here, we take a look at exactly how likely it is that Motherwell can progress once again.
In truth, very little went wrong. Going into the campaign, many expected Motherwell to be fighting for survival after what felt like the end of an era. With experienced players such as Stephen McManus, Keith Lasley and James McFadden joining the backroom staff or leaving altogether, Robinson had a tough task on his hands rebuilding with a host of new additions. But he made the task appear easy.
At no stage did it look like the club were in a relegation battle, and their eventual seventh-place league finish was precisely what they deserved. On top of that, they knocked out the likes of Aberdeen (twice), Rangers and Hearts on their way to the finals of the Scottish Cup and the League Cup, where they were beaten both times by Brendan Rodgers’ domestically dominant Celtic side.
All of this was achieved with an increasingly clear tactical approach implemented by Robinson and performed well by a hard-working group of players. Cedric Kipre was a revelation in central defence, while Chris Cadden and Allan Campbell brought dynamism and insatiable energy to the midfield. The combination of the 3-5-2 system, the aforementioned discipline, and Trevor Carson’s exceptional goalkeeping helped Motherwell to their best defensive record since the 2011/12 season.
One slight bugbear was their scoring capacity or lack thereof. The 43 goals scored was one of their lowest totals in recent memory, and wasn’t aided by the departure of star striker Louis Moult to Preston North End in the January transfer window. Mid-season addition Curtis Main settled quickly up front, further ingraining Robinson’s style with his constant running, pressing and bullish hold-up play, but he wasn’t able to finish at the same rate as Moult.
The exciting news for Motherwell fans is that, after an impeccably-handled season of transition, there have been few major sales this summer. That said despite Kipre signing a new contract earlier this year it looks as though he might be on his way to Wigan; he would undoubtedly be a loss. Conversely, other key men such as Carson, Cadden and Campbell have remained at Fir Park.
Backup goalkeeper Russell Griffiths was allowed to leave on a free transfer. So too was Deimantas Petravicius, who joined Falkirk. Other than that, the only outgoing player was 21-year-old Ross MacLean, who went on loan to Greenock Morton.
If Motherwell can keep hold of their stars for the rest of this transfer window, they will have an excellent platform to build from. Upon that stable base, they will hope to integrate several intriguing new signings. Speaking of which…
Perhaps the ‘most Motherwell’ signing made by the club this summer was that of Conor Sammon, who arrived on loan from Hearts. The 31-year-old’s reputation suffered a hit last term, where he struggled to score in a possession-based Partick Thistle side. However, alongside Main atop a system with a minimalistic approach to build-up and a focus on playing directly to the frontmen, he could thrive.
The early signs for Sammon are promising – in his opening four outings, he has hit the net three times. With his strength, aggression and running in the inside channels, he could form a rather scary twosome with Main that no central defender will look forward to facing.
Elsewhere, Robinson’s squad has been reinforced by the additions of striker Danny Johnson, right-back Liam Donnelly, goalkeeper Mark Gillespie, central midfielder Alex Rodriguez, and former Partick left-back Aaron Taylor-Sinclair. Of this bunch, Taylor-Sinclair is the most likely to start regularly from the get-go, though Rodriguez will be worth keeping an eye on. He, alongside Gael Bigirimana, could provide the sort of creativity Motherwell’s midfield at times lacks.
Robinson will be hoping his gradual improvement of Motherwell continues this season, ideally through a top-six league finish. However, while his squad is in better shape than it was this time last term, the Scottish Premiership landscape has been drastically altered.
Rangers are expected to push Celtic closer under Steven Gerrard’s auspices, while Hearts have made some excellent summer signings. Throw in Hibernian and Aberdeen, as well as Steve Clarke’s Kilmarnock – who should prove tough to beat despite the loss of Youssouf Mulumbu – and making that next step is a huge challenge for Robinson’s side.
Fortunately, they – unlike many of their rivals – have continuity and tactical cohesion. They have also added to their squad intelligently, bringing in players that should suit their style of play. Considering all of this, finishing inside the top six is a realistic aim.