A SHIVER ran through Fir Park on Saturday.
It is a sensation which is easy enough to identify given the proliferation of ice bucket challenges on the internet; a craze on social media having now become popular enough to act as a metaphor for a football club's season, albeit one which does not fully understand the rules. Motherwell supporters will not feel as though they have been nominated but instead volunteered to be left cold as they sit through matches which have offered up just three points since the start of the campaign. A fourth consecutive game ended without a win, without a goal, against St Johnstone at the weekend.
Motherwell have at least been able to score sympathy given the deteriorating health of their squad. The international break offers a reprieve at Fir Park - albeit manager Stuart McCall has the world champions to fret about this week - and an opportunity for triage, with Iain Vigurs suffering an ankle injury on the eve of Saturday's game and Stuart Carswell having spent the weekend in hospital due to illness. Stephen McManus also went over on an ankle during the second half against St Johnstone but soldiered on.
This has been the story of their season and a variation on the narrative attached to Motherwell during successive top-three finishes in the league. The squad has often been made to feel a little draughty whenever the summer window opens as prominent players move on but this season the greater discomfort has manifest in damaged bodies, with injuries feeling more painful among a squad which was strained already. Motherwell built recent successes on a settled starting XI and always appeared vulnerable should those foundations give way. Full-back Steven Hammell, for example, has been out of sight due to injury but came to mind at the weekend as Brian Graham converted a cross from the home side's left flank.
Paul Lawson felt at times as though his side were being attacked from all sides, since the stuttering form of his side has invited supporters to speak with clarity. "It's hard when you're getting the shout from a fan here and there," said the Motherwell midfielder who had made his first competitive start since Boxing Day last year.
"People can tell you to blank it out but when you hear it, it is hard to ignore it. If you're winning 1-0 and you play a bad pass it's an unlucky pass, if it's 0-0 or you are getting beaten it becomes a terrible pass. It's a fine line."
Lawson would return to the familiar refrain that fans "pay their money and can say what they want" but those who frequent Fir Park are not ignorant of the demands placed on McCall. A home defeat will remain intolerable to a football fan, though, particularly those accustomed to triumph over both domestic opponents and circumstances. "If a goal goes in off someone's arse we'll all be delighted," added Lawson.
Graham preferred to use his head on Saturday, intelligent movement taking him in front of Craig Reid and into a position to force the ball into the net. The striker is obliged to get up and running quickly this season having arrived at St Johnstone on a loan which will tie him to the club until the end of the campaign, a deal which will expire alongside his contract with parent club Dundee United. The 26-year-old is rangy and at times can appear awkward but he will intend to look every inch a top-flight forward so as to improve his chances of staying in the division.
He is welcome to audition for a place at St Johnstone, a team who lost their leading man last month when Stevie May was sold. The Perth side have won three times without him but the young striker continues to be missed. That feeling extends beyond the parameters of a pitch, too.
"He was a quiet lad . . . he'd come in and score a 30-yarder in training and sometimes that's the first you knew he was in," said Tam Scobbie, the St Johnstone defender of May, now with Sheffield Wednesday. "A few of the boys miss him, guys like Lee Croft were really close with him. But we all sent him a text when he scored [for Wednesday] last week and we hope he does well."
It was Graham who tipped the scales for St Johnstone on Saturday. And the bucket.