Motherwell manager Stuart McCall knows James McFadden could provide the piece of magic that could decide their Friday night fixture with St Johnstone – but he believes his own forward players are set to find form themselves.
McCall released top-earner McFadden in the summer as he shaped his squad for this season with four strikers at his disposal at the time and Bob McHugh set to return from a loan spell at Queen of the South.
The 31-year-old eventually ended up in Perth and is looking for his first goal for St Johnstone when Motherwell visit McDiarmid Park.
McCall said: “I saw Faddy play last week at Partick Thistle. The game wasn’t great and there wasn’t a lot of goalmouth activity but he played the key pass of the game which put [Lee] Croft through, although the keeper saved it. He had another decent effort as well.
“There is no denying the talent Faddy has got and still possesses. In tight games like this it might only take one second of magic and he is certainly capable of doing that. We are well aware he poses a threat if he plays, which I’m sure he will.”
Although the decision was enforced by money constraints, McCall was comfortable with the firepower at his disposal, with Henrik Ojamaa since replacing fellow Estonian Henri Anier as John Sutton’s main foil.
“First and foremost financially we didn’t have the money to offer what he had been on,” McCall said. “We had Craig Moore and Lee Erwin, two young players, and, at the time, Henri Anier and Sutty as well. We had four out-and-out strikers. So it was a bit of both really.”
However, Motherwell have struggled up front, netting just six goals in 12 domestic games, and they travel to McDiarmid Park in 11th place following a fourth consecutive defeat against Aberdeen last week.
McCall said: “We’ve always been a team which has scored a lot of goals and created a lot of chances. We’ve not been doing that. That’s been down to individuals maybe lacking a bit of confidence.
“We have chopped and changed formations but we just want to get back to what we have been doing over the last three-and-a-half seasons – getting at teams and making opportunities and defending better.
“After the Dundee game, I felt a bit lost and helpless but, after last week’s performance and attitude, we had a chat after the game and I just sensed everyone is behind the cause. Talk can be cheap but there’s a desire in the club to turn this around.”
McCall’s bid to push Motherwell up the table was not helped by a serious knee injury that midfielder Jack Leitch suffered in a midweek development league game. “Until the swelling subsides we don’t know the extent but it will be minimum three or four months,” McCall said. “It looks like it could possibly be a cruciate. That’s a blow for us and the lad so we wish him a speedy recovery.”
St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright has no doubt McCall will fire Motherwell up the table soon but he hopes a rested McFadden can prolong his former club’s misery first.
Saints are only three points ahead of McCall’s side and have not won in five games themselves. The form of the two teams represents a downturn in recent fortunes with Motherwell having finished second two seasons on the trot and Saints being the Scottish Cup holders.
Wright, who saw his squad cut despite his cup success, said: “They are probably similar clubs, people would suggest we have punched above our weight over the last few years and the expectation level has grown. I think Stuart is certainly one of the best managers in the league and the run they’re in doesn’t diminish the job he is doing.
“We both know how difficult the league is, if you can get on little runs they can continue for a while in this league. It has happened to quite a few teams but he is one of the top managers in the country and I have no doubt he will get them up the table. I just hope it doesn’t happen on Friday night.” McFadden faces Motherwell in a competitive fixture for the first time since being released by the Fir Park club.
He only came on for the last few minutes as Saints lost 1-0 to Rangers on Tuesday, although might have had a longer run-out had Lewis Macleod’s header not prevented extra-time.
Wright is hoping that his new forward can get up and running against the club where he made his name. “James is only back playing after an absence,” said Wright. “Medically it’s better that he avoids playing three games in a week, and also we felt Michael O’Halloran would give us pace up front.
“That proved to be the case and I thought he did extremely well. I think that will to be James’ benefit and he will be fresh for Friday night.
“Any player always likes to do well against their former club. I’m sure he has fond good memories of Motherwell and I’m sure Motherwell and their supporters have great memories of him. Let’s hope he can get off the mark for us against Motherwell.”