The Steelmen host Partick Thistle tomorrow afternoon as Premiership football returns, with both sides on the hunt for to get back to winning ways.
A 2-0 loss away to Dundee two weeks ago currently leaves Motherwell tenth in the table – a point behind Partick in eighth.
And as the Fir Parkers sit two points off the top six and Thistle just one, tomorrow’s clash has added importance for both sides.
This is the second meeting between the two clubs this season, following a 1-1 draw at Firhill in September.
A header from Scott McDonald secured a late point after Chris Erskine gave his side the lead on an eventful afternoon in Glasgow marred slightly by an incorrect offside decision for the ‘Well.
This fixture has proven to be a tough task for the away sides, with Motherwell winning just once at Firhill since 1997 and Thistle failing to record a win at Fir Park since 1996.
But history goes out of the window in football, and this fixture will be as hard to predict as any other this season.
‘Well boss Mark McGhee knows that his side has a tough task on their hands, with Thistle stringing together some strong results in recent weeks.
The manager said: “Partick Thistle – of the four recent matches we’ve played including Dundee, Inverness, Ross County and Partick Thistle – I looked ahead at those first three and I thought we could win them, when in fact we’ve just won one of them.
“Looking at Partick Thistle as the fourth team in our recent run, I’d say they are the strongest in the sequence.”
[pullquote]It’s going to be a really difficult game, they’re playing a different system, they’re a big team, they’re a strong team, they’re well organised, they’re playing with confidence.[/pullquote]
He added: “It’s going to be a really difficult game, they’re playing a different system, they’re a big team, they’re a strong team, they’re well organised, they’re playing with confidence so it’s going to be a really difficult game.
“We’ve got nine games between now and the end of December so we’ve now got a programme where it will be game after game after game so we need to be prepared for that.”
When asked about team news, the manager confirmed Carl McHugh’s return to training after a long lay-off due to concussion.
He said: “Everybody’s fit and Carl McHugh is back this week, he’s started his recovery properly, he’s feeling good and he’s smiling and we look forward to having him back in the new year.”
Tomorrow’s visitors on the other hand, will be more or less at full strength, with keeper Ryan Scully the main loss, as the young Scot is still out after suffering a shoulder injury.
After bagging the equaliser at Firhill and being denied a clear goal in the same match back in September, Scott McDonald is the one to watch tomorrow afternoon.
The Aussie striker will have added hunger to get among the goals after he had another incorrectly ruled out against Dundee last week.
And ahead of the match, the forward admitted that the club are well prepared for the clash, but admits it will be a tough match.
McDonald said: “Partick Thistle now have changed the way they’ve been playing, to a success. They sort of played a 4-4-1-1 before and now they’re playing a 3-5-2 and they’ve had excellent results.
“To be fair I think they’ve played well all the way through this season up until the point where late in games, from their perspective, they’ve conceded late and silly goals that have cost them some points.”
He added: “We’re fully aware of what their strengths are and what we’re up against at the weekend and we’re going to have to battle against that and try and get back to winning ways.”
[pullquote]We’re fully aware of what their strengths are and what we’re up against at the weekend and we’re going to have to battle against that and try and get back to winning ways.[/pullquote]
Returning to Fir Park this weekend will boost the sides confidence, after a thrilling 4-1 victory over Ross County last time out in Lanark.
McDonald said: “Obviously we had a great result at home last time round and we’ll be looking to try and pick up on that and try to get the last result of our system.
“We’ve been up and down for quite some time but I think everyone has in this league at the moment.”
He added: “I think it’s been quite strange and the manager has touched on it in previous in terms of it’s been very stop-start with the way the games have come and gone this year there’s been no real sort of pattern.”
The Jags currently occupy eighth spot in the Ladbrokes Premiership and are merely a point ahead of the Steelmen in tenth.
And despite Partick’s unfortunate recent history at Fir Park, manager Alan Archibald will be hopeful and confident in equal measure as his side arrive in Lanarkshire in the midst of a good run of form.
The Firhill boss has been in charge of Partick Thistle since 2013, when the Glaswegian club were in the Championship. But after overseeing their return to the top-flight, the Scotsman has kept Thistle there ever since.
As a player, Archibald made over 350 appearances for the club, in a career spanning 17 years and just two clubs.
A legend among the supporters, the manager will be hopeful to return his side to winning ways after they fell narrowly to Aberdeen two weeks ago with a 2-1 loss at Firhill. Prior to that though, the Glaswegian side strung together two crucial victories to drag them up the table after a slow start this term.
The Jags finished 9th last season and will be keen to improve on that finish this time around.
The last time the ‘Well faced Alan Archibald’s side they couldn’t be separated as a late Scott McDonald header secured a point for Mark McGhee’s men but should have sealed all three.
Motherwell fans will be hopeful of a similar result the last time the two sides met at Fir Park though, where a brace from Louis Moult and a Marvin Johnson strike secured a 3-1 victory.
With a threatening, creative attack, Partick will be a tough test for the Steelmen tomorrow though.
A busy summer window for Thistle has seen the additions of the likes of Ziggy Gordon, Danny Devine and Adam Barton.
But it’s the signing of Chris Erskine from Dundee United that is perhaps the most exciting for Jags fans, with the midfielder already among the goals this season with three goals and two assists in ten appearances. The 29-year-old Scotsman was signed on a free from the Championship side and is one of the main attacking threats for tomorrow’s visitors.
Last seasons top-scorer Kris Doolan has two goals and one assist to his name so far and Alan Archibald will be hopeful he can improve on his tally of 14 last term. It may be a sign of things to come for the forward considering his recent return – having gone the first nine games without a goal to his name, he now has two goals in his last three matches.
That has mirrored his side’s upturn in fortunes too, with the Jags picking up six points in their last three matches and now sit just one point off the top six.
But tomorrow afternoon, the Jags will be hungry to get back to winning ways after suffering a 2-1 loss at home to Aberdeen.
And the Northern visitors put an end to Thistle’s four-match unbeaten run in the process after Partick wasted good first-half chances through Ade Azeez and Daniel Devine.
They were made to pay for those misses when Anthony O’Connor drove Aberdeen into the lead after Adam Rooney touched on Andrew Considine’s header to give the Dons the lead.
Adam Barton headed Partick level, but Jayden Stockley restored the Dons’ lead with an excellent lob over goalkeeper Thorsten Stuckmann.
After the match Alan Archibald said: “Obviously I’m disappointed with the result but I thought out performance was good in patches. I thought we created the better chances in the first half.
“We went for it, we wanted to have a go, we didn’t want to go in a whimper. I thought we did that but it just didn’t fall for us in the right place.”