Motherwell travel to face Inverness Caley Thistle tomorrow as the two sides look to bounce back to winning ways after suffering defeats against Aberdeen and Rangers respectively.
The Fir Parkers face an important double-header over the next few days – with Hamilton on Hogmanay following Wednesday’s league clash with the Northerners.
For ‘Well boss Mark McGhee, tomorrow’s match and the final game of 2016 against Hamilton on Saturday are pivotal matches at this stage of the season.
The manager said: “I think that this spell is pivotal and can define our season in a way because I think if we can get two good results, even a win and a draw, will allow us to look forward to the end of January and then February with a positive attitude and aim for the top six.
“Regardless of whether we feel we’ve done well or not in some games – we probably should have won against Kilmarnock, should have won against St Johnstone and I don’t think we should have been beaten against Aberdeen but ultimately we’ve drawn two and lost one.
He added: “I also see this next spell as an opportunity; it’s a chance to make that step up in to a position where you’re able to challenge seriously for the top six.
“If we don’t get enough from these games we may not be able to sit here realistically and say we’re a top six team, but if we do get results then I will be sitting here saying that.”
The manager also feels that as well as pushing his team up the table, points on the board will boost spirits in the dressing room.
He said: “It’s more important about how much belief it can give us. For instance, if we were to go out and beat Inverness and Hamilton, I think we’d come back here with no fears.”
On tomorrow’s opponents, the manager said: “I always think Inverness are difficult and we’ve struggled to play against them at times. Their shape, the way they play, physically they’re a good size, their three midfield players are 6 foot plus so even that’s a challenge.
[pullquote]This spell is pivotal and can define our season in a way because I think if we can get two good results, even a win and a draw, will allow us to look forward to the end of January and then February with a positive attitude and aim for the top six.[/pullquote]
“Inverness can mix it up – they have that physical challenge but they have players in good positions, they have players who can score goals and they’re a threat from set plays and if you go behind against them you can find it difficult.”
He added: “We should have no fears physically when we face Inverness because we have become a team that is robust and can scrap our way out of it as well.”
Tomorrow’s match will be an important fixture for both sides, as the Fir Parkers sit just one point ahead of Richie Foran’s Inverness.
A win for the Steelmen could put some breathing space between the two sides and will bring confidence to the ‘Well ahead of Saturday’s derby clash too.
The Caley Jags are now without a win in eight matches, but the last time Foran’s side picked up a win was in the shape of an emphatic 3-0 win over the Steelmen back in October.
The Fir Parkers could be without skipper Keith Lasley, who faces a late fitness test after injuring his shoulder against Aberdeen on Friday forcing him to be substituted at half time.
‘Well defender Stephen McManus wants to go in to the winter break in a positive frame of mind – starting with a good result tomorrow night.
And during the busy schedule, the centre-back focussed on the positives of being able to put the loss against Aberdeen right tomorrow.
Speaking to the press this morning, he said: “The games are coming thick and fast which is great as a player, you want to play in the games and you don’t mind when it goes Saturday-Wednesday, Saturday-Tuesday because there’s not a lot of training to be done and it’s just about recovery.
“We’re coming in to a break as well so we’ve got two games to go and it’s two games that we feel are winnable.”
Inverness find themselves in a similar position to the Steelmen – hungry to bounce back to winning ways – and McManus admits that the Caley Jags will be up for tomorrows match.
He said: “It’s going to be difficult and Inverness will be feeling the same, Hamilton will be feeling the same too but in the past few weeks our performances have been fine.
[pullquote]The campaign this year is going to be very tight and at the moment in every match, whether you win, lose or draw, you seem to be moving position in the table.[/pullquote]
“We’ve just been missing that wee bit of quality, that wee bit of something different in the final third to turn the draws in to wins, and the defeats like on Friday night in to draws.”
With a mere four points separating sixth placed Ross County from 12th placed Inverness, matches like tomorrow and the upcoming Lanarkshire Derby can prove to be hugely important.
McManus said: “The campaign this year is going to be very tight and at the moment in every match, whether you win, lose or draw you seem to be moving position in the table.
“You want to go in to the break with your form being decent and psychologically you want to look at the table and, now that it’s taking shape, you want to go in with a few more points on the board to give you that bit more belief coming back in to the Rangers games towards the end of January.”
Ahead of tomorrow night, the defender added: “We’ll do our video analysis on Inverness in their last few matches and we’ve already looked at our own performance against Aberdeen and looked at the aspects which were positive and negative too.
“At this period of time when the games are coming thick and fast if you have a bad result you don’t need to wait a week or ten days to put it right.”
Inverness Caley Thistle currently sit at the bottom of the Ladbrokes Premiership, but are only one point behind the Fir Parkers in tenth.
For both sides, tomorrow presents an opportunity to bounce back to form and move up the table in the penultimate match of 2016.
For manager Richie Foran, who took over in May following the departure of John Hughes, tomorrow marks the challenge of a club he knows well.
Foran spent three seasons in Claret and Amber, making 90 appearances and scoring 23 goals, and as a manager it is his second meeting with his former employers following the 3-0 win at Fir Park back in October
His side arrive on the back of a narrow 1-0 defeat against Rangers at Ibrox and are now without a win since October.
Foran got off to a good start in his new role at the helm of the Caley Jags, securing some important signings over the summer.
Billy King arrived on a season-long loan deal from Hearts, Kevin McNaughton came in from Wigan, Jake Mulraney arrived from QPR and Scott Boden signed from Newport County.
And it all looked good for Caley Thistle, as Foran managed to get off to a winning start at the helm with a 2-1 away win to Cowdenbeath in the League Cup. In their group, Inverness drew with Dundee United at home and lost the bonus point penalty shoot-out, but things turned around as they won 5-1 away against Dunfermline and then registered a 7-0 thrashing of Arbroath to end July on a positive note.
In August, the Inverness boss lost his first league game in charge in the shape of a 2-0 away loss to Partick Thistle.
Things didn’t get better for the club as that result was followed by a shock 1-0 away loss to Alloa, knocking Caley out of the League Cup.
Foran then lost his first Highland derby as a manager when his side slumped to a 3-2 home defeat to Ross County.
Things went from bad to worse when a trip to Tynecastle ended in a 5-1 defeat to Hearts.
After the first International break of the season, Foran’s side sparked into life as they managed their first win of the season in early September with a hard-fought 2-1 home win against St Johnstone thanks to a late goal from Josh Meekings – who scrambled the ball over the line from a corner to seal the three points.
The next weekend the North derby away at Aberdeen ended in a 1-1 draw and was a big point for the Caley Jags. Ex-Well midfielder Iain Vigurs scored a great strike from 25-yards to level the score-line.
Foran also managed to record another impressive result, a 2-2 draw with Scottish Champions Celtic, being the first team, and currently only team, to take points away from Brendan Rodgers side in the league this season.
But as the season has surged on, the northerners have started to drop some important points and have picked up just three points in their last eight matches.
But with the ability to challenge every team in the league, and the incredibly tight nature of the top flight, Inverness will be confident ahead of every match and will be keen to bring the year to a strong conclusion.
It’s an important match for both sides, postponed due to the Dons progression in the League Cup, where they got all the way to the final but lost 3-0 against Celtic.
With the chance to move in to the top six, it is enough inspiration for Mark McGhee’s side and will be an intriguing encounter at Fir Park tomorrow night.