A NEWCASTLE fan, Louis Laing, would love to see Motherwell replicate the feats of his hometown side and sidestep relegation from the top tier.
“I’m a Geordie and a Newcastle fan. It was another great escape for them this season,” said the 22-year-old defender. “Hopefully we can do the same and stay in the league on the final day.”
They have given themselves the perfect platform, having headed to Glasgow for the first leg of the Premiership play-off final on Thursday night and stunned the home crowd by beating Rangers 3-1.
The result sent a shudder through the ranks of naysayers who have had the Fir Park side destined for the drop for months and simply firmed up their stance when they were drawn against Rangers in the all-or-nothing head to head. But the way they had been dismissed as credible challengers had buoyed Ian Baraclough’s men, according to Laing.
“We were aware of that perception. The manager mentioned it and we used it to our advantage,” said the on-loan Nottingham Forest player, who is out of contract in the summer and would be happy to arrange a more permanent deal at Motherwell. His chances of doing that will be enhanced if he can help keep them in the top league. “They were expected to win but I think we proved people wrong. The formation we played, the manager’s tactics all worked. It was a good night all round and hopefully we replicate it on Sunday.
“I think it created a siege mentality. In the changing room we were confident we could do it and we went out and showed that we were right to feel confident. We need to do the same on Sunday. They will come out of the blocks straight away and we’re expecting a lot of action. But we have the belief we can deal with it.”
Instead of wall-to-wall Rangers fans, they will be bolstered by the backing of a home crowd tomorrow and the challenge will be to remain focused and channel the buzz created as effectively as they did in midweek.
“We weren’t really thinking about the fans but it was a fantastic atmosphere. I take my hat off to the Rangers fans and the Motherwell fans, too, because you could hear the Motherwell fans over the top of the Rangers fans.
“It was the highlight of my career so far to play in front of that number of people.”
The favourites tag is one that has been bestowed upon them often in a campaign that stuttered and spluttered, showed signs of revival before ultimately ending with an 11th place finish and a play-off process fraught with danger.
“People were writing us off because of where we finished and the momentum of Rangers getting through the two play-off games, whereas we weren’t playing well in the league,” conceded Laing’s manager. “I can understand why that was and I was quite happy to go into it as the underdog. But maybe that’s changed. Stuart alluded to it. They are the ones now who have probably been written off. But we are still playing Rangers who are a fantastic football club with players who will be hurting and we have got to be ready for that. We’ll be ready for that.”
They will work out their own gameplan and try to suss out Rangers’ approach. They will have a plan A and a plan B in mind but, with so much at stake, they will be prepared for every eventuality and that includes practising penalties in training.
The hope is the game will not stretch to that, with matters wrapped up before such drastic measures would be required. Laing believes they can do that by adding another early goal to their first-leg haul. But they will be wary of an all-out attack by Rangers as they try to unsettle them by reducing the deficit early in the match.
“Oh yes, definitely, we are all expecting an assault from Rangers,” he said. “They’ve got no other choice. They want to go up but we want to stay up. Does it play into our hands if they attack us? I think it does. That showed the other night at Ibrox. The first ten minutes maybe we were a bit fortunate not to concede but, with our game plan and the two pacy wingers we have, things worked out really well for us. We counter-attacked really well and a similar thing might happen on Sunday.
“I don’t think we will change our approach too much. It’s down to the manager. We just do what we are told and we’ve not discussed it yet. But we will go into Sunday full of confidence. We don’t want to concede any goals, that’s a defender’s aim. What happens in front of the defence is up to others but a clean sheet would be ideal.
“It’s going to be a massive game, very tough but we are looking forward to it and we believe we can do it. Is it over if we get the first goal? It would be a help. But I don’t think that would be it.
“That’s the plan, though, try to grab the first goal and limit Rangers’ opportunities.”