STUART McCall has stressed that James McFadden will need to win his place in the Motherwell team – but he is looking to get the Scotland forward up to peak sharpness as soon as possible in order to get the best out of his return to the club.
McFadden made his competitive return in the 73rd minute of Motherwell’s Clydesdale Bank Premier League match against Dundee United on Tuesday night, but despite some good touches and a couple of blocked shots he could not prevent a 1-0 defeat.
The 29-year-old had only made three substitute appearances for Sunderland previously this season, and McCall tried to temper expectations from the fans, directors and player himself after the game when he warned McFadden did not have a “magic wand”.
But McCall is looking to find the balance between helping the former Everton and Birmingham forward regain his match fitness to boost his own attacking prospects, while rewarding the rest of his second-placed side for their form.
McCall, whose team face Ross County in Dingwall today, said: “I’m not saying he expected miracles for himself but he wants to show what he can do and get involved. It will maybe be a case of drip-feeding him at the beginning. He had 20 minutes the other night and we’ll see what he gets on Saturday.
“But he has missed a lot of football. Fitness-wise and training-wise he is up to speed and certainly a lot better than he was in the summer, but match-sharpness and game-time he is certainly lacking. I think if we started him, we wouldn’t get a full 90, but we have a lot of games coming up and parks are very heavy.
“We have just got to try to get him up to match speed and get him going. He is here to play football.
“Everybody wants to play, I have got the likes of Bob McHugh on the bench and Keith Lasley is coming back from suspension and other players who are desperate to be involved, and they all on their own merits deserve to be part of it. Faddy is now added to that.
“The bottom line is, once you get that jersey, it’s about trying to keep it. That’s a good dilemma for me to have as a manager because I have a lot of options now.”
McFadden’s signing was hailed by a Motherwell support to whom he has remained a hero since his move to Everton ten years ago. But McCall is eager to stress that McFadden is at Fir Park as a team player. He said: “They [the fans] remember the Faddy of old. And he has been a great addition to the dressing room and the squad.
“We are a tight-knit squad and everyone is pushing in the same direction and everyone is fighting for places. It’s not the James McFadden show, he is part of a squad and he is part of a team and he is happy to be that.”
Motherwell face a County team who have kept their opponents from scoring in three of their last four games, a return to their early-season form when a goalless opening day draw with McCall’s side was the first of five clean sheets from six SPL matches.
County boss Derek Adams admits he reverted to a more solid approach and explained: “Midway through the season we went to try to win a few matches and opened up a bit, and it didn’t really suit us.
“We’ve got back to what we’re good at – being solid, playing on the counter-attack and keeping good possession in the middle of the park.”
County will move from ninth place into the top six if they beat Motherwell and put themselves right in contention for a European place. With five points separating eight teams below leaders Celtic, Adams has argued that the competitive nature of the race for Europe shows that plans to reform the league structure are misguided.
Adams said: “We wouldn’t be in this situation if it was the new structure that they are looking to take into place. We would be playing in the bottom half with First Division sides. I think it’s great that the structure we have in the SPL at this stage of the season where the 11th team can look to try to get into Europe. St Mirren are only eight points off Hibs. I think they are wrong to change the structure of the game for a few clubs.”