STUART McCall is so impressed with the refurbishing job Terry Butcher and Maurice Malpas are doing up at Inverness that he has taken to cracking jokes about stealing their scouting network in time for next season.
Motherwell, along with champions Celtic, are one of just two teams to have this season beaten the high-flying Highlanders, who raided the English lower divisions this close-season to augment better known faces such as Andrew and Graeme Shinnie, Richie Foran, Aaron Doran and Billy McKay.
McCall, who gets on well with his former Rangers pal Butcher and fellow Scotland international team-mate Malpas, may well be shopping in the same market this summer and reckons Caley Thistle can have genuine top-six hopes if they can keep their first XI together.
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"What is probably surprising is the number of goals they've scored," said the Motherwell manager. "They are one of the top scorers and have scored in every game. They've got good quality – Andrew Shinnie is an exceptional player, Doran has good ability and I like the little boy McKay up front.
"They've brought Owain Tudur Jones and Ross Draper up from down south to give them solidity. Richie Foran is always a handful. They're going terrifically well and playing with a lot of confidence. If they can have a bit of luck with injuries then why can't they keep this going? They'll give anyone a game."
He added: "They've got to pick players up on the cheap with the budget they've got and they do it brilliantly. They need value for money as they don't have a lot to spend on wages, so their scouting is fantastic.
"Terry and Maurice create an environment where it's a siege mentality, where everyone is in it together, but as much as they've got that battling quality, they've got a lot of ability, too."
While Inverness have been prolific and clinical in front of goal, Motherwell have failed to show similar efficiency. Winger Chris Humphrey feels that all his team's misfiring strikers need is a goal and they will be off and running.
The Jamaican said: "In every game we play we create enough openings to win it, but we're just not finishing them. Michael Higdon and Jamie Murphy are the ones whose goals have been getting us results and we have faith in both of them, especially Higgy after he got back on the scoresheet last weekend. But it has been frustrating for us."
"Henrik Ojaama has learned a couple of things since he came here a year ago," he added. "His team play has been brilliant this season; I'm not saying that he was greedy before, but he's more aware now.
"Until now he's been unlucky not to score – he's hit the post twice, but when that first goal goes in he'll score a few. We just need to keep on doing what we're doing and we'll be all right, but the league table doesn't lie. If we'd taken all our chances we'd be miles higher than we are."
If McCall is starting to focus on recruitment, then it must be because this season already looks like the last for this group of players in Lanarkshire.
The contracts of almost an entire team are up for renewal this summer, and although work is beginning behind the scenes on to secure names on paper, McCall is already resigned to losing the abilities of Darren Randolph, who has been one of the finest goalkeepers in the SPL in recent seasons.
"I would expect him to go when his contract is up," said McCall. "Would I rather just sell him in January? No. But of course it's a balancing act. You need to see: (a) what you would get for him if we were to sell; (b) how would it affect the club, and how much extra would we get to maybe bring people in?
"Then you also look at the fact it's £80k per place in the league. Do you let one of the top goalies in the SPL leave for X amount – and then lose that because you finish a couple of places lower?"