It was a sunny Saturday in July and I’d just watched Motherwell FC toil to a 3-2 friendly loss at English non league Gateshead in a turgid pre-season friendly...having trailed 3-0 in injury time, writes Craig Goldthorp.
Despite goals by Ryan Bowman and Andy Rose putting gloss on the final score, at that point my thoughts on ’Well’s prospects for the 2017-2018 season must have been about as optimistic as those of the managing director of the Syria tourist board.
My feelings of trepidation were heightened by the fact that Motherwell’s star striker Louis Moult – who hadn’t played against Gateshead – was reportedly on the cusp of being sold to rivals Aberdeen for a fee of under £400,000.
At least chatting to Motherwell’s chief operating officer Alan Burrows in the press box cheered me up, as Alan insisted Moult wouldn’t be sold on the cheap as the Steelmen’s days of accepting cut price bids were over.
And there was a further boost provided by the strong defensive performance of Motherwell’s new French signing Cedric Kipre, formerly of Leicester City’s under-23 side, who looked the pick of the new signings.
But, as I stood trackside asking ’Well boss Stephen Robinson post match questions about “the boy Cedric” – I was the only Scottish journalist daft enough to make the 142-mile trip south – little did I realise this bleach haired colossus would have established himself as a fans’ cult hero within about three weeks!
An unprecedented summer of change at Fir Park – 17 new players were eventually to arrive and 16 left – was further shaken up by the installation of legendary player Keith Lasley as assistant manager in place of James McFadden.
So when I suggested to Lasley after the game that all he and Robinson had to do this season was finish in the top six of the league and win a cup to keep the fans happy, it was a comment distinctly in the ‘tongue in cheek’ category!
Fast forward three and a half months and an ebullient, super fit, hard working, tenacious and free scoring Motherwell side has held onto key man Moult, risen to third place in the league and – most impressively of all – seen off Morton, Ross County, Aberdeen and Rangers to earn a Betfred Cup final clash against Celtic on Sunday, November 26.
Hearty ‘well dones’ are therefore due to Burrows and his board for appointing Robinson in the first place and extending his contract to 2020, standing firm over Moult, accepting £400,000 for Ben Heneghan and bringing in superb replacement Peter Hartley and Robinson himself for brilliantly building a strong squad, getting key men Kipre and Allan Campbell signed up on contract extensions and vowing to persuade “two or three more” to stay longer.