Andy Walker on Motherwell: Strike duos, Robinson & battling the drop

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Andy Walker was a hero on the Fir Park terraces back in 1986, as he fired Motherwell up to the top flight of Scottish football. But right now, the former fan favourite’s main concern is on whether the Steelmen can retain that status this season.

After 31 unbroken years in the top flight, the Well face a battle against the drop right now – but it’s one the reliable striker thinks they’ll win, even though it could end up being very tight indeed.

Ladbrokes News caught up with the 58-year-old for a chat about all that and more, from the Moult/McDonald partnership, to his verdict on life under Stephen Robinson, and the talented loanee who’s caught his eye…

Ladbrokes News: The Well climbed out of the bottom two places with the weekend’s 4-2 victory over Inverness CT – their first win in five games. Do you think they’ll build on that result? And what did they get right which they hadn’t in other games?

Andy Walker: I thought they started superbly, scoring those two goals in the opening nine minutes. But the thing that impressed me most was Motherwell’s strength of character. To lose a two-goal lead, and then bounce back to win 4-2

You could argue they were a bit fortunate with the third goal [from Scott McDonald], but they’ve proven they can navigate these difficult ties.

Next up they’ve got what I think is a really tough game against Dundee at Fir Park.

They have a new manager in my Sky Sports colleague Neil McCann, and it’s a club which is very close to his heart – having started and ended his playing career with them – so he’ll be desperate to make a good start.

But while I think that Neil’s arrival will make this a really tough game, Motherwell should have enough about them to pick up the necessary points and avoid the drop. Especially so when you look at the experience they have in the squad – with the likes of Stephen Pearson, McDonald, and so on.

It’s a club I care a lot about, and am very grateful to. Motherwell gave me my chance in professional football – and I hope they can return to the heights they were hitting three or four years back.

LN: They’ve not been the most solid at the back this season, but have now conceded just four goals in the last four games. What do you put that down to? And who’s impressed you in that Motherwell backline during recent weeks?

AW: Injuries at the back have been a problem, with Stephen McManus a particularly big loss, and Motherwell have had a habit of giving away sloppy goals at times this season. But you’re right – they’ve definitely looked better at the back in recent weeks.

Zak Jules has impressed me in the past few games. He looked a bit short on confidence when he first arrived on loan [from Reading]. But there’s been a marked improvement from him in recent weeks, and he also chipped in with a crucial goal against Inverness.

I also think we’ve also seen the Motherwell midfield perform well recently – especially against Rangers – and they’ve played an important role in protecting the defence, and tracking back.

LN: Between them, Louis Moult and Scott McDonald have scored five times in Motherwell’s last five games. What do you make of those guys as a partnership?

AW: I think once you look past Celtic and Aberdeen, there aren’t really any better pairings in the division than Moult and McDonald. Obviously there are other very talented strikers at the smaller clubs – Liam Boyce at Ross County, for example – but these two do such a huge job for the Well.

Louis is obviously a great finisher, and Scott is a very good presence to have on the park. He works extremely hard for the team, he’s vocal – and a natural leader – and has obviously chipped in with some really big goals again this term. So they’re a well-balanced duo.

LN: Stephen Robinson took over as manager in late February, following the exit of Mark McGhee. Their form has improved somewhat since his arrival. What have you made of Stephen’s approach?

AW: I won’t lie, I was surprised to see them part company with a manager who has over 900 games under his belt, at a time when the team was struggling – and I personally think Mark’s experience could have been an asset. But they made the change, and I really hope it works out.

One positive with Stephen is that he knows Motherwell already. He worked under Ian Baraclough and under Mark here, and he’s had experience as first-team manager with Oldham Athletic.

He’s someone the players are familiar with and respect, and I’m really hoping he can guide them to safety in the coming weeks.

LN: Motherwell have struggled against the bigger sides this season, but have an impressive record against the sides around them – especially the likes of Kilmarnock and Ross County. How do you rate their chances of topping the bottom half of the table?

AW: Finishing seventh would be nice, but I’m sure at this stage that they’d take third-from-bottom, and then regroup ahead of next season. It’s just essential that they don’t give themselves any trouble by dropping into this relegation play-off spot. I personally think Inverness will finish bottom, but above them, it’s so tight.

Motherwell having good records against the other bottom-half sides is obviously a positive, and they need to build on that, to draw the clubs currently above them into trouble and see how they handle it.

I’m still concerned that they might be in trouble, but if push comes to shove, I think they’ll just about do enough. The young players need to be brave on the ball and to be willing to take a risk in the final third. I think nerves have been a bit of an issue for some players, and this is no time for those. Hopefully they’ll fly out of the traps this weekend against Dundee!

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing

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Dave Burin

Dave graduated with an MA in English Literature at Durham University, and worked in marketing before joining the Ladbrokes News team. A Man United fan and avid groundhopper, he’s also an ardent follower of Rugby League. You can usually find him at a ground near you, clutching a big cup of tea.