Few people would have had Motherwell as their pick for being third in the Premiership after 30 games – manager Stephen Robinson will remind you that’s the case.
Top six has been secured with a 1-1 Well draw away to Hearts with eight games to spare. Sitting ninth in the wage table, it’s some achievement to be up where they are and to have top six wrapped up by early March.
A change in fortunes at the start of 2019 paved the way for this, earning the most amount of points of any Premiership side outside Celtic and Rangers during that year. Such form has propelled their bid for European football.
Many Well fans would have snapped your hand off for the top six in July – but targets have risen and now that third spot will surely be the big aim.
Moving with small steps to a big goal
European football isn’t something on the minds of those in the Well dressing room if assistant boss Keith Lasley’s comments are anything to go by. He said before the 2-1 defeat to St Mirren that talk of a Europa League return isn’t in the ‘vocabulary’ at Fir Park.
Targets seem to move in stages. At the start of every year it’s to retain Premiership status. That was done pretty quickly this year so attention quickly turned to securing a top six finish for the first time since the days of Mark McGhee.
Job done after 30 games – see where we are going with this? It would be a brilliant achievement if Motherwell were to obtain that third spot and plenty of factors will have played their part should they get there.
Shrewd summer transfer shopping has to be commended. For teams like Motherwell, it’s very hard to guarantee quality with small budgets and usual dips into the unknown. The likes of Declan Gallagher, Liam Polworth and Chris Long have all been major additions that have boosted the Well in a pretty big way.
Gallagher’s a Scotland international now because of his claret and amber form, Polworth has the joint-second highest assist tally in the Premiership whilst Long has 11 goals and four assists in attack from 31 games.
Getting the likes of Liam Donnelly and Trevor Carson down on long-term deals allows Motherwell to start placing building blocks for the future, something which hasn’t been a luxury in North Lanarkshire in years gone by.
Clearing all external debt and the impact of that must not be underestimated too. It’s been a cloud Motherwell have had hanging over them for some time now so it’s disappearance has the long-term future of the club firmly in the careful hands of the Well Society.
You didn’t think we’d go through this full column without mentioning Robinson, did you? He first arrived as Ian Barraclough’s assistant during the 2014/15 season, and after returning to the club in 2016 as part of McGhee’s backroom, he took over as boss permanently in March 2017.
The Well have had three years of managerial stability, which is an important trait not often spoke about. It’s the biggest period of stability since Stuart McCall’s reign between December 30 2010 – November 2 2014.
Robinson will likely last longer than McCall’s period with his contract running until 2022. That would take his stay as manager to five years, two months, the longest managerial reign of any Motherwell manager since Tommy McLean between 1984 – 1994.
You could also put him down as the sixth-longest serving Well boss in history. Already in his three years in charge, a clear identity has been formed in terms of what Fir Park can offer a player.
It’s a platform for youngsters who have been in the academy for years to make their mark in the senior game – see David Turnbull and Allan Campbell for details. For those coming to Fir Park from other clubs, it’s a chance to prove yourself as a top player that big clubs can snap up, which the Well will likely benefit from financially – see Cedric Kipre for details on that one after his £1 million move to Wigan last season.
The home straight
Motherwell should be proud of how far they’ve come under Robinson’s guidance but where they could go from here is where the real excitement can be found. With a couple of decent results in their last two games against Ross County and Hearts, they seem to have put an eight-game winless blip behind them, with the home straight in their sights.
There are plenty of stars within that changing room who can win games and reintroducing exciting prospect and last year’s talisman Turnbull to that mix will only improve Motherwell efforts out on the pitch.
Seven of the eight teams they’ll play between now and May are top six members, three of these games being against Celtic or Rangers. It’s going to be a tough, tough test, but Motherwell are used to defying the odds by now.
Fans want to get their passports out just now but Robinson won’t let his side get ahead of themselves just yet. It’s in touching distance though, so let’s see if Robinson can bring Motherwell’s Premiership campaign in for a safe landing and simultaneously get their European tour dreams off the runway.