Stuart McCall grateful for second chance and a shot at silverware

STUART McCall is honest enough to admit that he was never really sure if he would ever get the chance to lead a side to a major cup final. His first managerial job, at Bradford City, lasted less than three years and he wasn't sure if there would be a second chance.

He had to wait 10 months for the next post, occupying his time with some scouting work for Norwich City and, less glamorously, mucking out the family stables. Faced with those realities, he didn't allow his thoughts to wander too far into the realms of dream scenarios.

"I'm not the kind of person who looks too deeply at all that but the stats are that if you don't succeed in your first manager's job down south, then one in two don't get another go.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"So it would have been silly of me, while I was picking up horseshite for my wife and daughter, to think that I would be getting ready for a Scottish Cup final. But it has been great here and it's gone well."

Appointed Motherwell manager at the turn of the year, the former Scotland international, who has also earned coaching experience at Sheffield United, has guided the Fir Park club to a top-six finish. He also oversaw their semi-final in the League Cup and has masterminded their progress a step further in the Scottish Cup. Should the final, against Celtic this Saturday, end the way he hopes, he will also be looking forward to European competition next term.

It is a decent haul for a club of Motherwell's ilk and a performance McCall is happy to praise his players for, even if their recent results have suffered slightly as a consequence of him prioritising the Hampden showdown.

He has spent the matches since the SPL split resting key personnel with this weekend's season finale in mind and, although it has affected the momentum and undermined the results, he believes the best players can slip back in and, rejuvenated, rise to the occasion.

"The players deserve all the credit. In the European games and the Cups they have been brilliant. If we reignite one of those performance on Saturday then we should be okay.

"Obviously, we have not had great results of late," said McCall, whose men picked up just two points from their five post-split fixtures. "But, if you are going to Parkhead or Tannadice, then you need your full complement to give them a game. We know that. but it was only a few games ago that we had a terrific comeback against Hearts." That day Motherwell fought back from 3-0 to salvage a draw, leaving McCall in doubt about the character of his players and their capacity to turn around last weekend's 4-0 defeat at the hands of Celtic and overcome them at the National Stadium on Saturday.

"The result won't affect us in any way. We got beaten at Parkhead but we beat them at Fir Park (2-0 back in February]. That has no relevance. It's about on the day and we know we need to be at our best.

"The main thing is that the lads who had little niggles are now all ready for one final push. It's been a long season but what a great way to end it. I said a couple of weeks ago that I just wanted to be going into Saturday's game with a fully-fit squad. We have got that. Training has been excellent and there is a really good tempo. Maurice Ross will join in with us on Thursday. He has done a bit on his own so he is fine. Everyone is raring to go."Some have questioned McCall's decision to jeopardise the feelgood factor that comes with a run of wins and gamble on the greater need for fitness. But, regardless the outcome of the final, he has no regrets, saying he felt there was every need to rotate the squad after witnessing his players in their recent game against Rangers.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"I looked at the second half and it was clear to see there were a few lads in need of a breather and a freshener. There's a mental aspect as well because it's only natural that they don't want to get injured."

The chopping and changing has left him in a bit of a quandry, though. While certain players who helped the club breeze through earlier rounds, netting six goals without reply against Dundee and Stranraer and then enjoying another two clean sheets beating Dundee United in the quarter-final replay and ousting St Johnstone in the semi-final at Hampden last month, others have staked a claim for inclusion.

"Deciding 100 per cent on the starting line-up is the next thing. There is probably one little area to think about so we'll make that decision over the next 48 hours.

"We have a view of our strongest line-up but the boys on the bench will be just as key. It's a squad game. I said after the Dundee United game that you can both play your way into a team and out of a team.

"In the 11, there is probably one key decision we need to make. But leaving lads out of the 16 will be difficult. You just have to get on with it. It was difficult against St Johnstone and it will be difficult again on Saturday, because this is the biggest game of the careers of most of the lads here. But as a manager you have to do it."