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Plenty to mull over on the long trip north

SHOULD Stuart McCall find himself stuck for a way to pass the time on the way up to Pittodrie this morning, he might have a shot at redoing the fixtures.

Motherwell welcomed Aberdeen on Boxing Day last year, and ran out 4-1 winners
Motherwell welcomed Aberdeen on Boxing Day last year, and ran out 4-1 winners

The Motherwell manager would likely prefer to have stayed overnight and be in Aberdeen already, but given this is Boxing Day he opted for a more traditional Christmas. It is one which been marked by conventional problems: teams being made to travel further than they would like at a time of year when most would rather stay close to home.

The round trip from Lanarkshire to Aberdeen can be accomplished easily in a day but the frustration it causes may be drawn out over the festive period. It will perhaps not help that Motherwell will just need to nip up the road to Glasgow on Sunday for a match with Partick Thistle, the club who will host Inverness Caledonian Thistle this afternoon. The Highland side might pass Hibernian on the way since the Edinburgh side are scheduled to face Ross County, while Dundee United will hope to be making good time on their way to Paisley.

The wine was not the only thing which might have been mulled slowly yesterday, then, with consideration given at the start of the season to limiting the amount of travel for the first fixture of the New Year - when Motherwell are at home to St Johnstone. The Scottish Professional Football League can be invited to make it a resolution that clubs are not asked to endure long journeys on Boxing Day either, but the geography of the SPFL Premiership does make that more complicated so that not every club can be appeased.

"I felt the same last season, when Aberdeen were coming down to us," said Stuart McCall, the Motherwell manager. "I remember speaking to Craig [Brown] and Archie [Knox] about it afterwards . . . I think they try to sort the New Year game, but you would think that on Boxing Day you would be playing against a team nearer to you. As a manager and players the first things you look for is where you are going to be around Christmas and when I saw we were at Pittodrie I thought 'that's a bit of a blow'.

"We have to get on with it but I think it could have been better. For the supporters to go all that way, it would have been nice had it have been local. There are enough local teams. Who could Aberdeen have had? Maybe Dundee United or St Johnstone. They try and give you a local one for the New Year's game but we play Partick on the 29th. Maybe we could have had that one on Boxing Day."

Admittedly, there would seem to be no good time to play Aberdeen. The Pittodrie side are just a point ahead of their visitors in the table but are capable of exerting a tighter grip on a higher position. The cold numbers of their season amount to four wins this month already, with nine goals scored and three conceded - all against Inverness on Saturday - statistics which are insulated by a squad which was padded out in the summer. Barry Robson was signed then and would score twice at the weekend, having been only a late substitute in his club's last meeting with Motherwell.

"I don't see why [Aberdeen] can't be up there - look at the squad they've got with Barry Robson, Willo Flood . . . experienced players," said Stuart Carswell, the Motherwell midfielder. "They should be up there, right enough. A guy like Robson will score you goals from midfield and it's a bit like Jamie Murphy was for us last season. Like when we played Aberdeen away, he would chip in with a goal; it's not just goals, but vital goals."

Carswell was inclined to linger on that point, given that he has still to score a goal for the first team since making his debut in 2011. "I've scored for under-20s . . . I don't know why I've not [scored for the first team] yet," he added.

At least that is something to think about on the way up to Pittodrie, where Derek McInnes was surprised to hear that Aberdeen have not beaten Motherwell for five years. Their league position, though, despite losing their best players in the summer, he feels is wholly expected. "They have responded to that Scottish Cup defeat against Albion Rovers last month," he said, "And the 5-0 loss to Celtic in exactly the way I thought they would.

"Stuart McCall has lost players and had to bring a few in but there remains that familiarity about Motherwell. They have got good staff and players there and have come out fighting."

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