MARK McGhee led Motherwell into Europe for the first time in 13 years during his first period in charge of the Lanarkshire club. Veteran striker Scott McDonald, who is also in his second spell at Fir Park, did not play under him but he is, nonetheless, experiencing a sense of déjà vu.
The 58-year-old remains Gordon Strachan’s No 2 with the national team and McDonald, who grew to appreciate the benefits of the latter’s strict training regimes at Celtic and Middlesbrough, sees similarities in the modus operandi of the two.
McGhee replaced Ian Baraclough as manager less than three weeks ago and he has given his new charges a crash course in what he wants and expects from them. To that end, rest days have become work days and results would suggest that those intensive sessions are bearing fruit.
A narrow defeat by Celtic in his first match was followed by a 1-1 draw at Aberdeen and, on Saturday, his first victory at Rugby Park. Nothing persuades players more than positive outcomes and McDonald says there has been no dissent over the encroachment into their free time. “Not having a day off has worked in favour as it has given us more time to work on things,” said the 32-year-old. “Shape is so important and people’s understanding of where we should be when we don’t have the ball can be more important than when you have it.
“I’m sure we’ll get a day off here and there but I know he’s a good friend of my old manager and he always worked us hard.
“They are of the same ilk in certain ways. However, as long as we are getting results, we won’t mind not getting days off. If we are not in the same situation as last year, we’ll be very pleased.”
McDonald, who rejoined the Steelmen midway through last season, endured a nerve-shredding battle against the drop but he does not believe that Motherwell, now four points clear of second-bottom Partick Thistle, will suffer similar concerns under McGhee.
“We want to get as far away from the bottom as we can: that’s important,” he said. “We’re trying to build something and you can see that under the new manager. Now we’re more solid and we’re not conceding the silly goals we gave away before. You saw at Kilmarnock that we were the better team and carved out good chances without getting on the end of things.”
McDonald came off the bench to score his team’s equaliser at Pittodrie and Louis Moult was the impact substitute in Ayrshire, driving the loose ball behind Jamie MacDonald after a blocked shot from Stephen Pearson had fallen kindly for him two minutes from the end.
It was harsh on the hosts, but midfielder Kallum Higginbotham insisted that this was not a return to the inconsistency which has dogged them throughout 2015.
“The way we played against Motherwell was a massive difference between what we did at the start of the season, when we were being battered by teams,” he said. “It was just one of those days.”