THE best period of his career is how Motherwell captain Keith Lasley refers to the past two seasons.
“Pity I had to wait until my 30s to enjoy them,” jokes the 33-year-old. The Fir Park club’s best-of-the-rest status – earned by claiming second last season and third in the previous one, which had Rangers in the top flight – appears under serious threat because half a dozen of the men with whom Lasley shared his halcyon days are now no longer team-mates at a club where he has given 12 years’ service. Such longevity has given the combative midfielder a sense of perspective about the rebuilding job required of manager Stuart McCall.
“In the not-too-distant past, under one of the previous six managers I have had here, people weren’t talking about us as having to defend a record as one of the top finishing clubs,” he says. “We have had seasons when were were getting mentioned for relegation, and years when that is what we have found ourselves battling against. It just shows you how much we have over-achieved because I think people forget how small a club we are compared to a fair few of the other teams in this league. Even with the guys that have gone we still have a good group and a good mentality and have coped before when we have lost big performers for us.
“I think it is just the way of it with the Scottish game right now that there will be a high turnover in personnel and that players will move on if they do well or are at the end of their contracts. We may have seen a few more players leave here than has been the case in previous summers but I thought the club gave a declaration of intent by keeping Faddy [James McFadden]. That showed we can still provide a platform for major talent and that we are serious about continuing to do what we have these past couple of years.”
As crucial as McFadden signing on again was McCall deciding not to sign off when former club Sheffield United sought to entice him back south. “For a new manager to come and be able to identify the areas we had been weakened in and so the types we needed to bring in to address any gaps would have been a real tall order,” Lasley says. “Stuart has been excellent in that respect and in creating a harmony and unity in the squad and helping any new players settle. As captain, I like to do anything I can to assist in that respect and players who come here tend to quickly feel at home in the set-up. Motherwell has become a big part of me, having been here for so long. I consider so many people who run the club behind the scenes to be friends and I want to do all I can to make a success of a club they do so much to be all it can be. It is an enjoyable workplace to come in to every morning.”
McCall doesn’t attempt to disguise the difficulties facing him as he seeks to ensure that the Motherwell style he has patented survives the departures of fleet-footed forwards Chris Humphrey and Henrik Ojamaa, never mind the frontline fixture that was 27-goal, players’ player of the year Michael Higdon. “What we’re missing is a wide player,” the Motherwell manager says. “It might be someone on loan but we’ve looked at five wingers in the past few months and they’ve just not been right for us. We want to play like we did last season but we lack a bit of pace to do that at the moment.
“[Striker] Henri Anier [who has just joined on loan] is a bit different to what we have, [Iain] Vigurs is a goal threat from midfield, Faddy gives us something different and will be a threat, Sutty [John Sutton] will score goals and maybe it’s Bob McHugh’s year as well, because he’s looking sharp. But we’re lacking that pace in the wide areas.”