League Cup clash comes first for Motherwell

Motherwell's Shaun Hutchinson is challenged by Calvin Zola in Aberdeen's 3-1 win in the league. The pair meet in the League Cup on Wednesday. Picture: SNS
Motherwell's Shaun Hutchinson is challenged by Calvin Zola in Aberdeen's 3-1 win in the league. The pair meet in the League Cup on Wednesday. Picture: SNS
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MOTHERWELL manager Stuart McCall talks of a “double header” awaiting his team, with a Premiership trip north to face St Johnstone this afternoon followed by a home League Cup quarter-final against Aberdeen in four days’ time.

Yet he accepts the two fixtures do not have equal billing in the eyes of his club’s supporters. “[The cup tie] is a game the fans have been speaking about for a wee while and they are probably looking forward to it more than the Sunday game, in truth,” he says.

It isn’t hard to see why. The Lanarkshire club’s defender Shaun Hutchinson considers that “there is an argument” the Fir Park tie has paired “the two favourites to win” a competition that was blown wide open by Morton’s ousting of Celtic in the last round. McCall admits, for his part, that a chat this week with his Aberdeen counterpart and former Rangers team-mate Derek McInnes had both agreeing “it was a tie both sides probably didn’t want”.

Motherwell’s desire to avoid the match-up can be attributed to the fact that Aberdeen have ended their interest in the Scottish Cup at Fir Park in each of the last two seasons, and already boast a league victory at the ground this term. Any apprehension from McInnes and his men might owe more than a little to the fact that these three wins are their only victories in the past 17 meetings between the sides. McCall points out his team are on a four-game winning run on their own patch.

“We are probably not scoring as many as we did in the latter part of last season but, if somebody had said we would win six out of ten, I’d have snapped their hands off – especially after losing two of the first three.

“We’ve been consistent. We have an experienced squad, mixed with some good youngsters but I still wouldn’t look at us and say we’ll definitely be top four. It’s very tight. At the moment we are winning the tight games although I do think we’ve deserved the 19 points.”

McCall’s sees the clash with Aberdeen as tight enough to frame his pre-match preparations in a particular way. “We will be practising penalties, put it that way,” he says. “We didn’t practise before Hibs a couple of years ago and got beat. So we’ll definitely practise this time.

“They have been a bit of a bogey team in the cup and they came down and beat us early in the season. We are a different side now though. It has the ingredients of being a real thriller.”

Hutchinson played in Motherwell’s last final appearance, the Scottish Cup defeat to Celtic in 2011, at the age of 19.

The absence of any Glasgow challenge does, the centre-back admits, increase the importance of Wednesday’s encounter. “There’s no one in it now who we cannot see why we couldn’t beat. To get a trophy for the club would be amazing, something I would love to do,” the youngster says.

Yet, even were Motherwell to win in midweek, Hutchinson may not have the opportunity to play another cup tie for the club. Out of contract in the summer, the Newcastle-born player, says he has “never thought of leaving” and doesn’t see why he “couldn’t extend” his stay. He will only think about his future when a contract offer is presented.

McCall met the player’s advisers this week and will be looking for a response quickly. If a deal is rejected, Hutchinson is in the final months of his Motherwell career. “He is still not the finished article and I feel that it would be better for his development to extend his stay here,” McCall said. “That would be better than the club trying to shuttle him out in January. The club has to safeguard itself. I know he is enjoying himself here and he needs to look at the bigger picture too. His agent and advisers will be saying it’s time to move on but I genuinely don’t think it is yet.”