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Motherwell not in a relegation battle yet, says midfielder Keith Lasley


Motherwell's fall from grace has been dramatic but, all things considered, not entirely surprising. In truth, few people outside Fir Park expected them to emulate last season's third-place finish.

By Ewing Grahame

Last Updated: 9:52PM GMT 16 Dec 2008


keith-lasley_1207370c.jpg Optimistic: Keith Lasley does not believe that Motherwell are playing as badly as the league table would seem to suggest Photo: REUTERS What has caused shockwaves, though, is the extent to which they have fallen below the standards they set during manager Mark McGhee's first campaign in charge.


Of course, one cannot under-estimate the traumatising effect the loss of club captain Phil O'Donnell following a seizure a year ago has had on the playing staff. The departure of Scotland striker Ross McCormack to Cardiff City during the summer has also weakened the team, along with the inability to make midfielder Simon Lappin's loan from Norwich City a permanent move.


Northern Ireland defender Stephen Craigan has missed the last two months with a severe groin strain, although he may return along with striker David Clarkson for the vital televised meeting with Hamilton Accies at New Douglas Park on Saturday.


Victory for the home side would see Motherwell, who have taken just one point from the last 18 available to them, replace them at the foot of the table.


"It will be a miserable Christmas if we find ourselves at the bottom but then you don't want to be there at any time," said midfielder Keith Lasley. "It's just something you don't want to be associated with and you don't want to put the fans through it either.


"But we're confident we can turn it around. We know how we can play and now it's a question of getting out there and doing it.


"Our problem recently is that we've found ourselves losing the first goal and that's proved to be crucial. Last season we started games a lot better and scoring first makes a massive difference in this league. If you're 2-0 up at half-time then life becomes a lot easier.


"Opposing teams may know how we play a bit better now but it's up to us to get over that. We've got to move on because we can't keep living on what we did last year.


One wonders, however, whether Lasley and his team-mates are in denial when it comes to assessing the severity of their plight. In the previous five seasons the club which has begun the New Year in last place has been demoted. Motherwell, though, still aspire to higher things. "We can't be thinking about finishing third again at the moment," Lasley said. "We have to concentrate on the next few games and taking something from them.


"I wouldn't say we're in a relegation battle, though. It's too early in the season for that. It's about character as much as anything.


"It's up to everyone in the dressing room to put this right. Hamilton will look at us on this bad run and fancy their chances, especially since they're at home.


"It's also a derby so what more could you want to make it a big game?"

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Telegraph again........



Motherwell plan recovery after form takes turn for the worse


Motherwell are Scottish football's equivalent of a hedge fund. This time last year they were riding high, third in the SPL table, four points behind Celtic and two adrift of Rangers.

By Roddy Forsyth

Last Updated: 10:30PM GMT 17 Dec 2008


Before December was out they were stunned by the loss of their captain, Phil O'Donnell, who died after suffering a seizure on the pitch, but the trauma only served to bond the playing squad further and they held on to third place until the end of the season, albeit by that stage they were 29 points behind Celtic. In contrast, this campaign has seen the Fir Park side slip steadily downwards, so that this Saturday's televised derby against Hamilton Academical at New Douglas Park is billed as a dogfight between the two prime relegation candidates.


Nor can it be assumed that time will come to the rescue of whoever emerges the poorer for the occasion, because in the last five seasons the club in bottom place at New Year has been demoted.


For Motherwell, too, there is the danger – familiar to panicking Stock Market investors – of assuming that because there is undoubted quality in the side, matters will right themselves in due course. Past results, as the financial world has learned in the most painful fashion, is no guide to future performance.


John Sutton, the forward who moved to Fir Park in September, after being freed from his contract with Wycombe Wanderers, is well versed in the volatility of the lower reaches of the SPL. He was relegated while on loan to Dundee in 2005 and was a member of the St Mirren side who won promotion the following season.


"We're on a bad run at the moment and some people have said that we're unlucky and that we've played well, but I don't think there are any excuses from us," he said on Wednesday. "I don't think we're a million miles away from getting a good result but that doesn't count for anything unless we do it on a Saturday.


"If we string a few wins together our situation changes. If we win on Saturday you think you can get a couple more wins and then you're looking at the top six again. That's the thing for us, really – getting the first win under our belts then going on a decent run of results.


"We keep trying to go forward and trying to play an open game, which I think is good. We have big enough characters, with the managers and the players, to back our ability."


For Mark McGhee, too, the year has been a switchback ride. Widely praised for his bearing in the aftermath of O'Donnell's death, he was on the short list to succeed Alex McLeish as Scotland manager last January – he declared that if appointed he would not leave Motherwell until the end of the season – and was subsequently targeted by Hearts, whom he agreed to join only to change his mind at the last minute.


Now Hearts are third and Motherwell are languishing. Some Fir Park fans have been vocal in their disenchantment, a situation Sutton says the players want to remedy forthwith.


"Obviously when he took over we weren't doing so well and then we had an incredible season last year. This is the first time since he's been manager that there's been a dip but he's been brilliant with the players," said Sutton, who could use an extra reason to celebrate his 25th birthday on Boxing Day.


"We talk about it and what we need to do and work hard and although it hasn't paid off for us yet I'm sure it will by the end of the season. We really like the manager and respect him and want to do well for him and it would be great on Saturday if he could put his feet up afterwards and feel content about things – and the fans as well."


The most material contribution Sutton could make, of course, would be to score goals, but even more to the point, to put Motherwell ahead, a feat that has largely eluded them for the last couple of months.


"If you look at most leagues, the team that gets the first goal goes on to win and we haven't been able to do that. On Monday we started well and had a few chances but at the end of the day Kilmarnock were more clinical than us and defended really well," said Sutton. "If we do get the first goal against Hamilton then the game will open out for us a little more going forward and that should help us.


"I don't think there's an 'Oh, no!' factor when we lose the first goal. Obviously we don't want to – and we're certainly not going 'Oh, yes!' – but we're always confident that we can get two back."


"You can get it on target and the keeper saves it but when things are flying in you don't hit it so well and it rolls in at the corner or gets a little deflection, but if you look at the games we've played, we made chances and forced the keepers to make saves.


"So from that point of view, we're hoping we're not too far away from getting a couple of goals.


"I think you do make your own luck and the teams who've beaten us have deserved to beat us, but by the same token we have to keep doing the things we're doing.


"If we do that I think things will turn round."


To which one might add – if only the global economy was as susceptible to such simple solutions.

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From The Times


Mark McGhee isn't quite casting around like the man who has lost everything, but the Motherwell manager is still a perturbed figure, and one look at the Clydesdale Bank Premier League explains why. Mysteriously, McGhee's team is mired near the foot of the table and tomorrow play the equally struggling Hamilton Academical in a match which, even in this bleak midwinter, has been labelled "a relegation clash" in some quarters.


To some Motherwell supporters, last season must almost seem like a mirage, a myth that never happened. But it is all there in the records: McGhee's men were hailed as the refreshing upstarts of the league, playing their crisp, artful football while ascending to third place in the table behind the Old Firm. From these exuberant Fir Park days the famous paean of Tam Cowan, one of Motherwell's most prominent and vocal fans, is still vivid. "The truth is, quite a lot of 'Well fans feel we've won a watch with McGhee, that we've never had it so good," Cowan said.


These are changed days, as football always insists upon. McGhee's side, not radically altered from last season, are just three points above bottom-placed Accies, and there were further grumblings in McGhee's direction on Monday night when his players floundered again, this time losing 2-0 at home to Kilmarnock. With McGhee, it isn't quite a case of the king being dead, though he knows he has some increasingly restless subjects to pacify.


"We're just not doing it - we don't have the same movement as last year, we don't have the same threat, we're not scoring the same goals," the Motherwell manager said. "I would argue, having said that, that we are still creating some good chances, though we're not taking them. Basically, in the final third, we're just not creating enough.

  • "I can see it, everybody can see it. Our play this season is not of the same quality, even though we are trying to do everything exactly the same. There is not the same variety, the same depth or even the same lateral movement that we had before. I sat down with the players recently to look at some DVDs and I pointed this out to them - you could see it on the screen. So that's what we're trying to get back.
    "We're still capable of playing decent football. We played Rangers a month ago and I still maintain that we played some of our the best football of the season that night, or maybe the best ever during my time at Motherwell. But it still ended 0-0. So it's a problem."
    The phrase "misfiring strikers" springs to mind. Chris Porter, for one, scored 17 goals for Motherwell last season, but was guilty yet again of passing up chances the other evening against Kilmarnock, a further sign of Motherwell's current struggles. Porter was a bold McGhee catch when he landed him in the summer of 2007, though the English striker has much on his mind which may be affecting his game.
    "Chris came to Motherwell as a means of getting in the shop window - his dream is to play on a bigger stage in England, and he was quite clear about that, as was I, when we signed him," McGhee said.
    "Last season, his goals were terrific for us but there is no doubt now it is not the same. Partly, it may be to do with tactics. We played 4-3-3 last season and it worked well for us, but Chris sometimes feels that 4-4-2, which offers him a straight striking partner, is better. So these are all things that we have discussed.
    "Our slump is also to do with wider things: some of it personnel, some of it form, some of it just bad luck. Last season, I think we only used about 15 players before the split - in fact, there was hardly a time when I was forced to pick or play a team that I didn't really want. So everything went for us last season, which is why we finished third. That hasn't happened this time. We've lost Ross McCormack, which is an obvious loss. We've also had, arguably, our three best players missing - Stephen Craigan, Paul Quinn and David Clarkson - which has also had an affect to a degree. Basically, we need all these guys back."
    Yet McGhee, in the midst of all this, is bullish about one thing - the blunt fact that he is still at Motherwell. Having been offered and rejected the Heart of Midlothian job last summer, the Fir Park manager, who has been brusque towards some of his club's fans in the past, is keen for them to at least acknowledge that he has stuck around.
    "I don't really know what the fans have been thinking," he said. "There was a bit of grumbling after the Kilmarnock game, which is to be expected. I know some comments have been made in the past, but, of course, I care about what the fans think.
    "But let's be blunt here - I made a commitment to stay at Motherwell in the summer. Right now I could be managing the team that is currently third in the league, and I think if I was there [at Hearts] they would still be third in the league. But I stayed here, because I wanted to work at Motherwell, and wanted to work alongside John Boyle.
    "In that sense, I feel I've been loyal to Motherwell, so I hope the fans in turn can stay loyal towards me and the team. And I don't care what type of situation we are in, the one thing I want to be is consistent, and that means we will only ever play the game one way under me. We will pass the ball - it's the only way for me and my players."

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I canny help but believe McGhee when he says we're due to turn good, I've see glimpses of it in most games this season, especially against Kilmarnock believe it or not. Still clinging onto the hope that good times are just around the corner. After all, who else would step into his shoes just now?

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McGhee: Fans should show same loyalty I gave to club

HUGH MacDONALD, Chief Sportswriter December 26 2008

Mark McGhee has appealed for a loyalty bonus from supporters.


Motherwell are stuck in the lower reaches of the SPL after a third-place finish last season that prompted Hearts to offer the vacant job at Tynecastle to McGhee.


The Motherwell manager has watched his side sink down the league to the soundtrack of heavy criticism from Fir Park fans, but McGhee has called for the barracking to end.


He said: "When I took the job on again, rather than going to Hearts, I didn't think for a minute that we would cruise back into third place by more points than we did last year.


"I knew the situation. I knew we had lost Ross McCormack and didn't really have any money to spend in the summer. I took the job on for other reasons and I expect some return from that.


"I could have easily left for a job that was much better paid and carried more prestige.


Hearts are third in the league and I would be sitting there at least if I was at Tynecastle. But I chose a job I knew would be much more difficult for a lot less money. I expect loyalty from our supporters in return for that. Otherwise, why do it? Why did I not just go to Hearts?


"I think it's fair. I showed them loyalty and now the team and myself needs their backing. Otherwise, the next manager in that position who has that decision to make should just take the money and run."


McGhee was speaking ahead of tomorrow's vital home match against Inverness Caledonian Thistle that precedes the first anniversary of the death of Phil O'Donnell.


"I hope it won't make it more difficult for the players to focus this weekend," he said. "You cannot state how difficult that has been and just how much it has affected some of the players. But I think we have it under control now."


Motherwell players will certainly need all their focus as they have been dragged into a dogfight at the bottom of the SPL. After defeat to Hamilton Academical last Saturday, McGhee said he was now the worst manager in the league. "I actually made a mistake. I said what I said because I thought we were 12th, I thought we were rock-bottom," said McGhee, whose team lie 10th on the same number of points as bottom-placed Hamilton.


"I came home thinking we were bottom but then, at 10pm, when I eventually put the telly on, I saw a league table. I thought it was wrong, so I checked the BBC and Sky. I even checked the Hamilton website because if anyone was going to have them above us, then that was the place. But I saw they weren't and I actually got a huge lift from that.


"There two worse managers in the league than me, I thought. I really did feel like that. I thought we had stopped it in time - we weren't bottom.


By Monday morning, I was ready to get that message going: let's not be bottom - let's arrest it and get back up."


McGhee said there was a simple reason for the series of disappointing results. "These boys work as hard as they can. On Saturday, we had five players missing from the team that was winning matches this time last year: Phil O'Donnell, Ross McCormack, Steven Craigan, David Clarkson and Stephen Hughes. That makes a huge difference, and we're not going to be as good a team in those circumstances."


McGhee, whose problems have been exacerbated by a virus which has forced Bob Malcolm, Steven McGarry, Jamie Murphy and Hughes to miss training this week, added: "I've got to be complicit in some way to any result, good or bad. But my conscience is clear. I'm working as hard as I can and, over this last lot of games, I don't think I've made many mistakes in terms of team selection or tactics. We've just not been good enough on the day."


McGhee said he had not received an offer for Chris Porter, despite reports linking the striker with Nottingham Forest. He added: "With everyone fit, we can do better. If I could choose between having everyone fit and getting money to spend in the transfer window, I would choose the former."

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Today's Herald article i would suggest shows a manager under pressure.

I fully appreciate the job McGhee did last season and commend him for his honesty.

However trying to blame the loss of players compared to a year ago just won't do;we managed to perform against both Old Firm only a few weeks ago without a some of the players he names

Mentioning Mccormack doesn't wash either:he hardly kicked a ball for the last few months he was at Fir Park

The bottom line is the players who have played in recent weeks are capable of far better,they need to start proving it right away

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The loyalty comment amused me. McGhee (rightly, in my opinion) got rid of Corrigan last season. This despite the years of loyal service Corrigan had offered. Remember Corrigan was one of those who took a pay cut when we went into administration, he turned down more lucrative offers in order to stay at Fir Park, a guy that had put in a lot of years good service with us. McGhee moved him on because he simply wasn't up to doing the job. A few more weeks of defeats and you have to question whether McGhee is up to doing the job. McGhee has been in football a long time. He knows that loyalty only lasts as long as you are able to produce...

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Motherwell 3 - 2 Inverness : Porter has no desire to swap Fir for Forest

By Angus Wright CHRIS Porter claimed he would be happy for Motherwell to reject any offers for him in January after his hat-trick helped the club remember Phil O'Donnell with victory.

Porter headed home three times as Motherwell returned to form two days before the first anniversary of the death of their hugely-respected captain.


The players formed a huddle before the game where they vowed to claim three points for O'Donnell.


Manager Mark McGhee admitted the added drive had helped them claim their first win for almost two months, but he rightly pointed out that the return from injury of Stephen Craigan and David Clarkson had made a huge difference.


Stephen Hughes, who missed last week's defeat by Hamilton through illness, was influential in midfield as Motherwell attacked with pace and precision.


And the importance of Porter was also evident. When the Englishman headed home Steven Hammell's eighth-minute cross, it was the first goal from open play McGhee's men had scored since Porter's second goal in a 2-0 win over Hamilton on November 1.


The former Oldham striker has been watched by Nottingham Forest and McGhee admits he cannot stand in his way if he wants to move next month. But Porter is not looking to leave Fir Park, at least until the end of the season.


"I read in the papers a couple of days ago that I had signed a pre-contract with Forest, which was not true," the 25-year-old said.


"I would just leave it up to Motherwell if a bid came in. I am happy here and I just want to keep playing and scoring goals for Motherwell."


Soft goals in the closing stages in each half from Ross Tokely and Adam Rooney, who followed up his own penalty, only served to disguise the dominance of the home team.


And Porter admitted there was an extra determination about them, due to the time of year.


The striker completed his hat-trick just as the game entered the 78th minute, the time O'Donnell had collapsed with heart failure against Dundee United.


The home fans marked the moment with a standing ovation and song for their late hero and Porter said: "


I'm sure Phil would have been pleased for us and I'm sure his family are as well."


With Craigan back in defence, Slovakian Maros Klimpl performed well in midfield and McGhee now aims to extend his loan spell from Danish side FC Midtjylland.


"We are hoping to continue that," McGhee said.


"We played him in midfield and he showed his experience. He was an anchor there and I think Stephen Hughes had his best game for a long time, and I'm not sure that was because of Maros or whether that was a coincidence."

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