AMID the clamour to hail Derek McInnes as a managerial genius, Stuart McCall could be forgiven for wondering just what he has to do to gain similar recognition.
Unlike his counterpart at Aberdeen, McCall is yet to win a trophy for Motherwell but he has done just about everything else during his three and a bit years in charge. Sorties into European competition and high-placed league finishes have become so commonplace on McCall's watch that they have become virtually taken for granted. Motherwell, level on points with Aberdeen heading into the final chunk of the campaign, have almost become victims of their own success.
Clubs tend to flourish during periods of consistency but that has not been the case at Motherwell. Summer after summer, McCall has tried but failed to hold on to his key players who, taking advantage of expiring contracts, have tended to move on to more lucrative posts, giving the manager little choice but to seek out replacements and rebuild.
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It is achieving that repeat success with a new team every season that perhaps stands as McCall's most significant achievement to date. He lost more than half a team last summer - Darren Randoplh, Chris Humphrey, Henrik Ojamaa, Michael Higdon, Nicky Law, and Tom Hateley all moved on - but their reinforcements have not faltered. With signings such as John Sutton, Lionel Ainsworth and Stephen McManus all making key contributions, Motherwell are again in a strong position to claim the title of best-of-the-rest behind champions Celtic.
"We are right in the mix for second spot," said defender Steven Hammell, creator of both Motherwell goals in Wednesday night's 2-0 win over Inverness Caledonian Thistle. "All the focus and attention has been on Aberdeen and rightly so because they will take massive confidence from winning the League cup. But it suits us to fly under the radar a bit and we can always push and get better and better; we will give it our best shot and hopefully we can do it.
"If we qualify for Europe this season and finish second it would rank as the best achievement yet. We have made Europe in six of the last seven seasons. It would be special because of the number of players and the quality of players we lost last season as they were all straight from our first team. A lot of people thought we would even struggle to get into the top six. "
Hammell insists there is no magic formula for success, instead highlighting McCall's man-management abilities and the warm camaraderie around the club as factors. "We just have a tight-knit squad and that helps," he added. "Everybody that is here is playing regularly and we are relatively happy. The manager has fostered a great team spirit and he and his coaching staff are excellent to work with."
The contest between Aberdeen and Motherwell for second place will be closely fought and Hammell hopes previous experience gives his side an advantage. "We want to get better and improve where we are in the table. We have experience of getting over the line and qualifying for Europe in the past few seasons and hopefully that will help us. Every point counts and we are at that time where you are looking over your shoulder and above you as there is added pressure. We have players who have been over this course and distance and hopefully that will stand us in good stead come the run-in."