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McCall seeks minor tweaks to end season in perfect key

Fir Park was in a state of harmony yesterday.

Mark Reynolds will be up against his old team tomorrow as Aberdeen host Motherwell. Picture: Sammy Turner/SNS
Mark Reynolds will be up against his old team tomorrow as Aberdeen host Motherwell. Picture: Sammy Turner/SNS

That might have had something to do with the feng shui carried out by Stuart McCall inside the Phil O'Donnell Stand, the Motherwell manager taking it upon himself to rearrange his audience ahead of a press conference so that he was able to give his views from a preferred vantage point. "Budge round a little, this is my lucky spot," he said with a wry smile.

McCall does not act on superstition before matches but he could still have been forgiven for wanting to have things positioned just so this week. A win in Aberdeen tomorrow will be enough to move the Lanarkshire side above their hosts and into second place in the SPFL Premiership table.

It is a small step which would lead to greater riches - Motherwell will earn £240,000 from the league for finishing in second rather than third - and will allow the club to elevate its company in the Europa League next season too. They will enter the competition in the second qualifying round, while also being granted an additional fortnight on holiday. "Everyone likes a decent break, don't they?" said winger Zaine Francis-Angol, almost in passing.

It is often incumbent on fans to dress for that sort of occasion on the final away day of their season and the pressure of a match tomorrow in which victory is paramount will likely be tempered somewhat by the vision of a few Motherwell supporters tossing beach balls about in tutus and morph suits. It no longer seems as great a stretch that the majority of their current side will return after the summer to do it all again either.

McCall confirmed yesterday that discussions have taken place with a number of individuals whose contracts expire later this month. The process has been complicated a little by the demands of preparing for two matches in one week - Mother­well defeated Inverness Caledonian Thistle on Wednesday night - and the impending departure of Leeann Dempster as chief executive.

A return to European competition next season has been enough for the Fir Park club to settle on the playing budget, though. "The budget has almost been set now, because we got into Europe. That was the key ingredient," said McCall. "There is something like, what, 240 grand worth of difference [for finishing second rather than third]. Our budget is the same as last year which we are delighted about as the only other time we've managed that is when we got to the cup final, and you rake in a lot of dough there."

The relative success of this season must still be balanced against its costs - Motherwell were knocked out of the William Hill Scottish Cup by Albion Rovers and seven players have required operations following a litany of injuries. "We've had some sore ones this year and probably lesser sides wouldn't have come back the way these lads have," McCall added. "They have bounced back from boots in the balls and slaps in the face, if you can use those terms."

Missing out on a second-place finish - Aberdeen will need only a point to consolidate their position - will be another painful blow, although McCall afforded the prospect a lighter touch yesterday. His side will line up at Pittodrie against former team-mate Mark Reynolds, a player who retains a certain affection for his old team. "And if he really shows his true colours then he will put one in his own net at Pittodrie," joked McCall.

The Aberdeen defender would only go as far as passing praise their way yesterday. Reynolds is part of a team who will feel as though they have merited the runners-up spot this season - they have beaten Celtic twice, after all - and he is not willing to countenance a less auspicious reward for their efforts.

"If we don't finish second it would feel like a failure and I think that's the case for both teams," said Reynolds, whose side will be without striker Adam Rooney tomorrow, while there is also doubt over the fitness of midfielder Willo Flood.

"The job Stuart McCall has done is incredible because his team gets ravaged every season; he loses five or six players every summer but Motherwell keep challenging. So for different reasons either of us would feel like we've fallen short [by being third]."

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