Craig Brown: Motherwell have the edge in the race for top six

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One of the most admired and experienced managers in Scottish football history, Craig Brown added a stint as Motherwell boss to his CV when he took the Fir Park job pack in December 2009, helping the club to secure European football for the following season.

With the Well facing a double-header against Rangers next, Ladbrokes News caught up with the legendary gaffer to talk top-six hopes, Louis Moult and experienced stalwarts. And that’s just for starters…

LN: Right now, Motherwell are in ninth, but they’re only three points outside the top half and have a game in hand on sixth-placed Ross County. How do you rate Well’s chances of a top-six finish?

CB: I’m expecting a really competitive battle between Ross County, Partick Thistle, Dundee and Motherwell, for the top six spots. There’s only two points separating those four sides, and having seen quite a bit of each team this season, there’s not much between them.

I’ve obviously got a real soft spot for Motherwell, having managed the club. But even if I’m being objective, I genuinely do think they’ll make the top six.

They have a very good manager in Mark McGhee, a reliable goalscorer in Louis Moult and a few exciting young talents coming through. Then you’ve got the experience of players like Keith Lasley and Steven Hammell, who are extremely reliable. So I think that gives them the edge on the sides just above them.

LN: Their last five games have yielded three draws, one win and one defeat. What’s your verdict on their recent level of performance, and the style of football they’re playing under Mark McGhee?

CB: They’ve certainly been competitive in games, even before that run started. You only have to look at how well Motherwell played against Celtic at Fir Park at the start of December – a game they were unlucky to lose [4-3].

They produced some good football when they lost at Aberdeen as well, and Motherwell tend not to be overawed by the top teams in the league. But in the last game against Hamilton, they didn’t perform quite so well. So the big issue is needing to turn draws against sides in the bottom half of the table into victories.

You can see that from their goal difference. It’s quite a bit better than Ross County’s, and they’re not losing any games heavily, but they’ve had more draws than wins this season.

One benefit they do have now at Fir Park is the pitch. They’ve got a fantastic playing surface now – far better than they did several years back. And that’s a huge benefit for a side who look to play the ball on the ground, and have a really neat passing game.

LN: One man who continues to impress is Louis Moult, with nine Ladbrokes Premiership goals already this season. What do you think his biggest strengths are? And just how important is he to the Steelmen?

CB: Louis is physically very strong, for starters. He also has ample pace and is very well suited to playing alongside Scott McDonald.

That’s a very good partnership, because you have Scott who’s a strong, stocky guy who holds the ball up well and has tonnes of experience, and then Moult is quick and more of a threat in the air.

The goals he scored against Celtic were very impressive. He finished them off like a top international striker. I think it’s interesting that although Mark doesn’t always start with two up front, he reverts to that formation a lot, because they’re so well-matched and a major problem for any defence in the Ladbrokes Premiership.

LN: Obviously there’s a break of a few weeks now, but that’s followed by a league and Scottish Cup double-header against Rangers. Do you think Motherwell are good enough to beat the Gers on their day?

CB: At their best, I think they can beat anyone. I genuinely do. Rangers will worry about playing Motherwell, because they’re an extremely capable side. Provided they keep their shape and cut out any silly mistakes, there’s no reason they can’t get a result in these games.

I obviously saw Aberdeen at Fir Park just before Christmas and it was a very tight and close game [eventually won 3-1 by the Dons]. And I think Motherwell are getting stronger as this season goes on – and will continue to do so.

You need experience to win games against the top sides, and they have that in droves, with players like Lasley, Hammell and Stephen McManus at centre-back, who’s played against the likes of AC Milan and Barcelona back in his Celtic days.

Add to that the good young players they have coming forward, and they can cause Rangers some problems in attack. So they’ve also got an excellent balance.

LN: The second of those – in the league – is at Fir Park. It’s a fixture which always draws a big crowd and a good atmosphere from the home fans. Could that be enough to make the difference if it’s a tight game?

CB: It could well be. Rangers do always have a big travelling support, but the home crowd at Fir Park is always really large and very vocal for this fixture, and the players always respond very well to that.

One thing that disappoints me a bit is that quite a number of people in the town of Motherwell follow Celtic and Rangers, when there’s a great club on their doorstep.

However, if things are going well at Fir Park, some of those local people will come back and support the home team, and if they can beat Rangers, then that’s a real scalp – and the kind of result which could bring people back to the club.

LN: We’re a week into January now. Do you expect Mark to bring in some new faces, or stick with the squad he’s got? And are there any areas where you think they should maybe look to strengthen?

CB: I’m not sure what size budget he has, but I do know Mark’s resourceful. He knows English football very well, and this is a club where players from down south often come for first-team opportunities and really enjoy it here.

During my time, we had the likes of John Ruddy and Nick Blackman at the club, both of whom were great acquisitions. So I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few players come up on loan deals from English clubs.

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.