AMID the fallout from this week’s Players’ Player of the Year nominations, Celtic manager Neil Lennon claimed that none of the frontrunners would make it into his Celtic side. But not everyone is so dismissive of the bookies’ favourite for the PFA Scotland award – Michael Higdon.
Just 24 hours earlier, one of the guys who has benefitted from playing alongside the big Englishman was touting him to an even higher force.
“It’s hard maybe for a regular football fan to appreciate what he brings to the team because he’s mostly in the box waiting for that chance to come along,” said fellow Motherwell attacker Henrik Ojamaa. “But every team needs a player like that who doesn’t get involved in the run of play as much but is in the box when you need him to be. Everyone watched the Barcelona game in midweek – they had great players everywhere but no-one really in the box. It’s good when you have the flair players to get on the ball, move around, make things happen, but then we know when the ball goes in there, Michael is going to be there. Barcelona could do with Higgy, I think!”
Unable to vote for a team-mate, Ojamaa had no problem finding an alternative to Higdon– and it wasn’t a Celtic player. He said: “I voted for Leigh Griffiths. If you look at the players nominated, I’d say it is between Michael and Griffiths, who has done very well with limited service at times but, with the goals Michael has scored, it’s right he was nominated.”
While Griffiths is considered something of a one-man band by many, few would say the same about Higdon. Favourites to finish second in the SPL behind Celtic, who they host today, Motherwell’s efforts have been of the collective variety. Higdon acknowledges he has been the beneficiary of quality service as he rattled in 24 goals to put himself at the top of the league scoring charts.
A major player in that has been Ojamaa. The Estonian is the legs and the movement in the partnership, Higdon is the finisher.
“We know each other’s games very well,” added Ojamaa. “The more we’ve played the better we understand each other. He’ll be in the box, I’ll be making the runs into the wide areas or just dropping off to get the ball and make things happen. We’ve had chats about how we want to work together. We both know what we expect from each other and the standards we set for each other are high.”
That approach has been successful but has seen Ojamaa sacrifice goalmouth action for himself to provide for Higdon.
“That’s what’s best for me and for this team. I wouldn’t be as beneficial to the team if I was just waiting for chances to come my way in the box as well. That’s Michael’s thing and he’s great at it. I just want to get on the ball and make things happen.”
Manager Stuart McCall has not been blessed with a huge squad but he has managed to get the best from his players and find a balance that provides goals and entertainment but while still having one of the top defensive records.
“Going forward we’re very tough to play against because we have so many creative players,” added Ojamaa. “In Michael we have a goalscorer who will mainly stay in the box and make the most of these opportunities.
“The team is also solid at the back as well. We have a great keeper and, although the defensive line is young, they’ve still done well.
“If you look at the team, everyone has performed. Teams may know our strengths but that doesn’t make us easy to stop.”
The biggest challenge Motherwell face now is retaining the swathe of players who are out of contract this summer. From the frontline to the goalkeeper they have key players to fight for. While Higdon is one who is in talks to stay, they won’t win the battle to keep them all. Ojamaa isn’t one of those whose deal is up and is relying on McCall to assemble a similar cast of characters and players in the hope they can continue this season’s good work.
“It’s a question for the manager and board to handle. All I can do is enjoy playing with the great team we have now and if we lose a couple, you wish them all the best,” said Ojamaa. And if the final reckoning leaves the Fir Park side with a mountain to climb next term, Ojamaa is the man to help them to the summit. He said: “I like to drive around the country on my days off and go to the mountains. I’ve done quite a few of the Munros now, maybe five or six, and I’d like to do more. Estonia is a flat country so this is new for me but I enjoy getting away from the routine. I think Ben Lomond was the first one I did. I just go on my own, it’s good to get away and be by myself for a change.”
On the hills that’s fine but on the pitch, this term has always been about a collective effort.