When 2019 started, Motherwell were in ninth place. Fans at the start of the year would have chewed your arm off for top six security going into 2020, never mind a comfortable top four berth.
Whilst currently stewing on a 2-1 derby defeat in the final game of 2019, the year as a whole was solid for the Steelmen. Stephen Robinson has brought about consistency that leaves his side with the third highest points tally outside of Celtic and Rangers during 2019.
Considering the modest budgets and where the Well were at the start of this year, Robinson’s men have delivered in emphatic fashion. 2020 though could be even better off the back of a successful year in the league.
2019 was a brilliant 12 months on and off the park. Whilst the club have been put in a strong position on the park, off it, they’re looking good too. They paid off all exisiting debts that were previously owed to Les Hutchinson and John Boyle.
£1.5 million has been paid off, leaving Motherwell financially stable. It’s allowed for full concentration on playing efforts, which has been helped by the hard work players are putting in.
Off days like the 2-1 defeat to Hamilton will occur but overall consistency has been shown. It was rare over the course of the year to find days where Motherwell didn’t put hard yards in across the park.
A hard work ethic has been instilled in this side and club captain Peter Hartley knows this. He’s seen the endeavour this Well side have put into performances over 2019 and now they are finally reaping the rewards of that.
“We work really hard everyday, we don’t take anything for granted,” said Hartley. “We do go into every game believing we are going to win whilst keeping our feet on the ground.
“We want to finish as high up the league as we can and we know every game is going to be different. We’ve got a team full of confidence and we’ve worked really hard to get to where we are now.”
Summer reshuffle worked wonders
At the start of 2019, Motherwell swapped a 3-5-2 for an attacking 4-3-3. Whilst perhaps the squad depth to pull this approach off consistently wasn’t there initially, academy graduates in Jake Hastie, Chris Cadden, Allan Campbell and David Turnbull were driving it on.
Gboly Ariyibi provided pace on the flanks, Turnbull was netting at a frightening rate and the backline was strong with the likes of Tom Aldred and goalkeeper Mark Gillespie providing solidity at the back.
Like many years gone by though, Robinson had to rebuild in the summer. Key players and squad men like Alex Gorrin, Hastie, Cadden, Aldred, Ariyibi, former captain Carl McHugh, Elliot Frear and Danny Johnson all departed.
In their place, Robinson has unearthed some gems. Jermaine Hylton, Bevis Mugabi, Jake Carroll, Chris Long and Devante Cole have been notable additions, whilst Liam Polworth and Declan Gallagher have taken their games to new levels after moves from Inverness and Livingston respectively.
Some may have been unknown, but Motherwell brought in plenty of quality all over the park. That combined with great form from men already at the club like Liam Donnelly, Campbell and Hartley has shot Motherwell up the league.
They’re extremely fun to watch too when they are on their game. Away from home, it’s fast counter-attacking football, whilst at Fir Park they try and blow teams away with precision.
The defeat to Hamilton is a sore one, however, Gillespie’s one Motherwell star who’s well aware of how big their results have been over the course of 2019.
“We wanted to finish with a win and get to that 40 point mark which would set us up for the second half of the season,” Gillespie said. “There’s no way the lads are happy with where they are and that the second half of the season will take care of itself.
“Individually and as a team, we need to keep our standards up. We don’t have a right to beat anyone, we need to be on top of our game. When we look at the general picture we can be pleased with where we are.
“We’re third in the league, we’re looking up. We need to do the same second half of the season and make sure we do the same point-wise as the first.”
Feet on the ground
Robinson’s all too aware of the increased hype and speculation surrounding his squad. They punched above their weight consistently in 2019 and 2020 could see them claim European football.
He’s shut this down plenty of times as the Northern Irishman opts to focus on four-game blocks. Sitting clear in third and 12 points clear of Livingston in fifth, they look very good for a chance at Europa League football.
There’s work to be done though. Cole has already left Motherwell and Robinson has set his sights on a striker to aid their Euro tilt. A small budget though will make this task a difficult one.
Lanarkshire derby dejection also shows what can happen if the Well do take their foot off the gas. Rarely did Motherwell fall below standards in 2019, but a 2-1 Accies defeat showed what will happen going forward if they do.
Big names will come back from injury too. Charles Dunne will provide solidity at the back upon his return whilst Turnbull could perhaps appear for Motherwell before the season is out. His return would give the club a huge lift after taking the league by storm last term.
For now though, Robinson is managing expectation and making sure the club’s feet remain on the ground: “Expectations have risen. I think you see the reaction from the crowd.
“The players have been terrific for me. I have to give them credit for the desire and energy and improvement they’ve made. We must do the simple things though. We have to match teams physically and match their energy.
“If you had said we’d be third at the turn of the year we’d certainly have taken it. I try and be measured with it, the players have had a lot of plaudits. You’ve got to remember where we are, we’re massively overachieving.
“I believe that we have group of players that can maintain that if they do the simple things well. We get between 4000-5000 fans but we strive to get better all the time. You’re going to get blips in the road but the players deserve the support of the fans.”
2019 certainly was a brilliant year for Motherwell, but if they continue to walk the same path, 2020 will provide glory for their efforts.