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Ramsden: We thrive on defying the odds

SIMON RAMSDEN is understandably confident of sailing through his first competitive outing in six months against Stjarnan with flying colours.Prospering in the face of adversity, you see, is becoming second nature for everyone at Motherwell.

Simon Ramsden wants to rekindle memories of his Motherwell debut when he played against Panathinaikos in a                                         Champions League qualifier. Picture: SNS
Simon Ramsden wants to rekindle memories of his Motherwell debut when he played against Panathinaikos in a Champions League qualifier. Picture: SNS

Ramsden's return from the knee complaint that has kept him on the sidelines since undergoing surgery in January has come at the most opportune time with the Fir Park club toiling for numbers ahead of tonight's Europa League second qualifying round tie.

Shaun Hutchinson, James McFadden and Henri Anier have all said their farewells with the manager, Stuart McCall, working hard to find a new centre-half and centre-forward from somewhere on his notoriously slim budget. Chances are they will see off their Icelandic opponents over two legs, but they cannot possibly harbour any hopes of winning a further two ties and reaching the group stages of a UEFA competition with such an absence of strength-in-depth, can they?

Ramsden points out that few fancied them to finish in second place in the SPFL Premiership last term and insists the current, threadbare squad takes extra strength from being written off in the wake of six European campaigns in seven seasons that have failed to result in qualification for the competition proper. "We thrive on defying the odds," said the 32-year-old central defender. "From top to bottom within the club, we have that fighting mentality and togetherness. We are a family club.

"People will write us off for the next round if we get through this tie. That acts a spur to us to prove people wrong and will kick us on the same way it did in the league. We showed the quality we have to finish runners-up in the Premiership last season above the likes of Aberdeen and Dundee United. That was a huge achievement and we want to carry that into the Stjarnan game and show why we finished second."

Ramsden's Motherwell career started with a memorable European outing in July 2012. He made his debut in a 2-0 home defeat to Panathinaikos in the Champions League preliminaries and admits his recollections of that evening have bolstered his desire to help the club make that great leap forward into the group stages of the Europa League and set up a host of fixtures that can recreate the magic of that visit of the Greeks.

"That was probably the best atmosphere I have ever experienced in my career," stated Ramsden. "The build-up to that match was massive as it was the first time Motherwell had been in the Champions League qualifiers. The thing that stood out for me was that we went 1-0 down that night and there was a massive roar from the Motherwell fans as if to say: 'Come on, we can still do it'.

"That lifted me on the pitch and I remember thinking: 'This is what it is all about'. Whether as a player or a fan, you want to be involved in games like the Panathinaikos match when it is a full house and you are expressing yourself against the best players. It is what you are in the game for.

"Last season's against Kuban Krasnador in the Europa League qualifiers was a great occasion too, although, both times, the results went against us. Those kind of ties will stand us in good stead for this season's European adventure."

In addition to losing to Panathinaikos and Kuban, Ramsden has also been through a defeat at the hands of the Spanish side Levante during his time at Fir Park. Motherwell failed to score in those three European ties, but he admits their position as favourites against Stjarnan creates a whole new set of expectations.

"It is something we need to embrace," he said. "Against Panathinaikos, Levante and Krasnador we were the underdogs. Patience will be the key and it if takes until the 90th minute to break them down, so be it. This is my third season and I have not seen us score a goal in Europe. I did see us score an own goal in Russia, but not one in the right end. If we don't concede an away goal, though, that will give us a platform to get through."

Stjarnan's ageing forward Veigar Pall Gunnarsson has already admitted that the main objective for the Icelandic side this evening is to stop Motherwell scoring and Ramsden is prepared for a fraught, often frustrating affair. "This might be one of those games where we will have to be patient as they might sit in for long spells," he said. "You face teams like that throughout your career, though.

"If they do play one up front, we will get more time on the ball at the back. We will have to start in defence, get on the ball and get at them because we definitely have players in our squad capable of hurting them."

Stuart McCall, the Motherwell manager, has also urged his side's supporters to remain calm during the course of the 90 minutes. He admits he would be perfectly content travelling to Iceland next week with nothing more than a 1-0 advantage.

"If you watched Celtic, I'd say KR Reykjavik defended really well," said McCall. "I think Stjarnan possess a bigger threat going forward, though.

"They beat KR Reykjavik 2-1 not so long ago. Would I be happy with a 1-0? I'd be happy with any type of victory. We'd be capable of going over there and getting through if we've got a victory at home."

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