A banner outside Fir Park on Sunday spoke the minds of an increasing number of Motherwell fans who are losing patience with a team flirting with a first top-flight relegation in almost four decades.
When manager Steven Hammell, his players and his staff pulled into the Phil O’Donnell Stand car park for training on Monday morning, the first thing they would have seen was a message demanding they “show some passion for the badge”.
Saturday’s defeat at Pittodrie means only goal difference is keeping the Lanarkshire side off the foot of the table as their winless league run extended to 11 games.
Hammell’s men have only earned one victory in their last 15 Premiership matches – but that only tells half the story of a torrid campaign so far, which has been over a year in the making.
With a season-defining month on the horizon, BBC Scotland takes a deep dive into the problems at Fir Park and explains why Well fans should still retain hope their side can preserve their 38-year top-flight status.
Fourteen months of relegation form
Motherwell ended last term in a very respectable fifth place, securing European football. However, a tight and congested Premiership papered over the cracks of a dramatic decline in Graham Alexander’s side throughout the second half of the season.
Their current form isn’t a blip. Since the start of 2022, the Fir Park club have recorded just eight wins from 42 league games. The 35 points they have accumulated in that time averages out to 0.83 points per match.
Multiply that across a 38-game season and you reach a tally of no more than 32 points – a figure which would fail to guarantee safety in any of the last nine Premiership campaigns since the play-offs were reintroduced.
Alexander’s part in a grim run of form throughout 2022, which ranked Motherwell rock bottom of the Premiership pile for the calendar year, played a significant part in his exit.
A humiliating Europa Conference League exit to Sligo Rovers in late July was the breaking point.
Alexander left by mutual consent the following day. The Premiership season started 24 hours later. There are certainly better times to dispense with a manager.
That timing, plus the magnitude of the task, raised concerns about the possibility of hiring a rookie boss. However, Hammell did enough in his interim spell to convince the Fir Park board he was the man for the job.
A more expansive style brought positive results in the infancy of Hammell’s tenure, with three wins from his first four league games. But Motherwell have only won twice in the following 20 Premiership encounters.
Home form is a massive issue, with just one league win at Fir Park this term.
The 32-point season Hammell’s men are on course for is four fewer than the 2014-15 side who survived via the play-offs, and just four more than the 2002-03 side who finished bottom, only to be spared relegation after Falkirk were denied promotion for failing to meet the required stadia specification.
There will be no such criteria to save Motherwell this time if they don’t wise up. Their season and their top-flight status could slip away if they fail to turn their fortunes.
Underlying numbers provide encouragement
The only stat worried Well fans will be concerned about at the moment is points – but dig a bit deeper and you will find there is some evidence that luck could turn.
So much of a team’s potential is judged by their ‘underlying numbers’ – and Motherwell’s stack up. For instance, their expected goals (28.75) and expected goals against (32.66) wedges them in around mid-table.
Scoring hasn’t necessarily been an issue since they have netted in 75% of league games, while they boast the joint-best defensive record in the bottom six.
The issue is the decisive nature of the goals conceded. Of Motherwell’s 14 league defeats, 10 of them have been by a single goal. There have also been just five clean sheets – the last coming in late October.
More emphasis must be placed on being resolute in key moments, but Hammell hasn’t been helped by injuries to his backline – four different centre-back combinations have been used in the last seven league games alone.
Ricki Lamie, Shane Blaney and Bevis Mugabi are all on the treatment table, while Sondre Solholm and Matt Penney left in January. New recruit Dan Casey should improve the defensive options – but the Irishman hasn’t played since late October.
Fellow January signing Calum Butcher will add steel in a midfield lacking presence. For the time being, the ex-Dundee United man may be asked to fill in at centre-back.
A Scottish Cup last-16 trip to second-tier Raith Rovers on Saturday provides a welcome break, but anything other than victory will only ramp up the pressure on the manager.
Then it’s two tough home games against St Mirren and Hearts followed by a vital double-header away to relegation rivals Kilmarnock and Ross County.
Well fans face a turbulent and uncertain few months ahead both on and off the pitch, with chief executive Alan Burrows on his way out, but by early March they will have a clearer picture on how serious their side is about staying up.