McCall: Motherwell need to ‘toughen up’

Stuart McCall: Four home losses in a row. Picture: SNS
Stuart McCall: Four home losses in a row. Picture: SNS
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Motherwell manager Stuart McCall looks set to go back to basics and make his team more difficult to play against after their season of misery continued with a 3-1 home defeat by Dundee on Saturday afternoon.

Motherwell 1-3 Dundee

Scorers: Motherwell - Ojamaa (62); Dundee - Clarkson (3), Harkins (30), Stewart (59)

McCall had hoped his side would give themselves a platform to build on with a steady start, after losing seven goals in their previous two games, but former Motherwell striker David Clarkson volleyed the visitors in front with little more than two minutes gone, after being left in yards of space following a half-cleared free kick.

Dundee consistently caused problems by getting bodies in the box and Gary Harkins made it two in the 29th minute when he followed up Greg Stewart’s blocked shot.

Motherwell had a number of half chances, with Henrik Ojamaa looking lively, but some lax marking in the home defence was giving the visitors better opportunities and Dan Twardzik saved well from Clarkson and Paul McGowan before the break.

Stephen McManus was hauled off at half-time but Motherwell’s defending did not improve and Stewart was at least ten yards from any home defender when he stabbed home Clarkson’s low cross just before the hour mark.

Ojamaa got the goal his play deserved three minutes later when he turned home Fraser Kerr’s header but Dundee goalkeeper Scott Bain – a late replacement for the injured Kyle Letheren – was equal to anything Motherwell threw at him as they belatedly applied some pressure.

Motherwell have now lost four consecutive home games and sit second-bottom in the Scottish Premiership.

Their best performance of the season by far was a 1-1 draw at Celtic Park when they defended in numbers and attacked well on the break, and that could be McCall’s formula in a tough run of Friday fixtures in which they visit Aberdeen this week and then St Johnstone before hosting Dundee United.

McCall expects to have the injured Steven Hammell and virus-hit Lee Erwin and Craig Reid fit for Pittodrie.

He said: “We are certainly not scoring nowhere near what we have done in previous seasons, but when you are going through a tough period, like we are, first and foremost you have got to be hard to beat, and we are not being that.

“We are not difficult to play against at the moment and we have to toughen up.

“At the other end of the park we have to start creating more chances and scoring more goals, but give me a 1-0 now for the next three weeks, whereas before I would always say 5-4.

“To give us any chance of getting anything out of games, we have got to defend far, far better.”

McCall added: “I just felt defensively we were very poor. The goals we have lost were really poor. From an experienced side, that was really, really disappointing.

“Fair enough, it’s a great goal from Clarky but he is all on his own. I think Mick [McManus] has got his hand up for offside but he is nowhere near offside and we are not trying to play offside.

“The second goal they carve through us and we don’t pick up or organise.

“Defending is not about being a brilliant header of a ball or a brave tackler, it’s about communication, awareness and organisation, and that we are certainly not doing at the moment.”

Admitting that the loss of such an early goal was a significant blow, McCall continued: “It was psychologically damaging to lose a goal in the third minute and it boosted Dundee, who have been struggling recently.

“We need something to change to get us out of this bad run and we must knuckle down and be difficult to play against.”

Dundee manager Paul Hartley praised the way his side started the game as they ended a run of four defeats, although the knee injury Letheren suffered in the warm-up is causing concern.

Hartley was delighted to see Clarkson net his third goal in his third appearance for the club and was pleased to also see his strike partner Stewart on target in the Fir Park success.

“I think Clarkson’s getting better,” he said. “That’s why we brought him in. He knows where the goal is. He is natural in terms of one hit and a finish.

“Him and Stewart linked up very well and Greg deserved his goal because his play and touch and movement was really good. They worked well as a pair today and it is something that he had worked on all week.

“The front two got good service and their movement caused the Motherwell back four all sorts of problems.

“[Stewart] came from Cowdenbeath, where he was part-time, and it took him about six weeks to get his fitness up because he wasn’t used to full-time football.

“He’s got a great touch and great vision, he’s a good team player and Clarkson has great experience – you saw that with his goal.”

However, the Dens Park manager isn’t getting carried away and added: “I think we can play a lot better. In terms of picking three points up, I definitely think we can keep the ball much better and we could have scored more goals.

“But we didn’t, we will take the three points and prepare for Hamilton next week.”