4930: Motherwell: McGhee finds home
by : Alex Wolstenholme
Nine games into the SPL season and Motherwell under Mark McGhee are enjoying a decent start to the campaign. They currently lie in mid-table with thirteen points and are also into the last eight of the CIS Cup after knocking out holders Hibernian in the last round.
This has been achieved by the man that Sir Alex Ferguson once tipped for the top as a manager, with McGhee back in Scotland professionally for the first time since leaving Celtic for Newcastle as a player in 1989.
The 50-year-old had found himself trapped on the lower-division managerial merry-go-round in England following a bright start to life as a gaffer with Reading.
McGhee lost a lot of goodwill (not least among Reading and Leicester fans) when he left for what he perceived as bigger jobs, first at Leicester and then at Wolves but his CV stands up alongside most in the game, especially the early work at Reading and the success on a shoestring at Brighton.
With the prospect of a Premiership or top Championship club offering him a return to the game looking less than slim, McGhee looked elsewhere, cconsidering an offer from Irish side Bohemians before returning north of the border to take charge at Fir Park.
An alarming slump in form towards the end of last season had seen the Steelmen dragged into the relegation battle at the foot of the SPL and signalled the end for previous manager Maurice Malpas.
Owner John Boyle subsequently accused Malpas of lacking 'passion' and called on McGhee, with new number two Scott Leitch providing a Motherwell link, to bring an identity back to the club.
That certainly seems to have been the case so far with McGhee finding himself pleasantly surprised at the quality of the players he has inherited and of the game in Scotland as a whole.
Passing football has returned to Lanarkshire with McGhee stating at the start of his reign that 'we will train most of the time with the condition that the players are not allowed to play the ball above head height'. Three strikers are a regular feature on the team-sheet while the new fitness regime at the club has also been strict.
The most obvious fruition of all of this came in the League Cup win at Hibernian recently, when Motherwell produced a superb display of attacking football to win 4-2.
"All credit to Motherwell, I thought they played terrifically well in a 30-minute period in the first half," said Hibs manager John Collins afterwards.
"We were off the pace, a couple of yards short across the pitch, and they punished us. We were beaten by a team that played very, very well."
Taking over late in the summer restricted room for manoeuvre in the transfer market but midfielder Stephen Hughes (signed from Leicester) and striker Chris Porter (Oldham Athletic) have both made a good impression, compensating for the loss of Scott McDonald (to Celtic) and Brian Kerr (Hibs).
The existing squad have also responded well to the new manager's demands.
The SPL as a whole is a much-tougher proposition this season but already there looks to be little chance of Motherwell being dragged into a relegation battle.
While a European place may be just out of their reach, they will fancy their chances in the knockout competitions, despite being drawn against Rangers in the next round of the CIS Cup.