2021 was a year that began in bleak circumstances. After a festive season in which many were separated from family and friends, the country was soon heading into a third national lockdown.
The mood was low and having finished 2020 with the departure of Stephen Robinson and a nine-match winless streak, the atmosphere around Fir Park was similarly grim.
There was to be setbacks as the new year began, though the appointment of Graham Alexander galvanised the ‘Well squad and secured Premiership safety.
The second half of the 2020/21 campaign, just like the first, was played out in empty stadiums. It was an extremely difficult experience for players and supporters alike.
Our usual matchday routine became turning on a laptop ahead of kick off to watch the team we love. Seeing the sections of the ground normally filled with colour and noise sitting empty – we had become outsiders.
But then then there were some glimmers of light, and many of us will remember the summer for being the time when the Fir Park gates reopened, and fans made their long-awaited return.
The shoots of recovery had emerged as a limited number of Scotland fans were at Hampden and Wembley as the national team finally ended their excruciating wait to play at a major tournament and then there was 17 July, the day that we returned to Fir Park – 500 days on from the last time we stepped foot inside the place that many of us regard our home away from home – the emotion, the excitement and the noise on that day was truly special.
Every visit since felt like it was a privilege and now as we begin 2022 with uncertainty over when supporters will return to stadiums, that feeling has only intensified.
Stepping into the new year, there are plenty of reason for optimism from a Motherwell perspective however, sitting in fourth place in the Premiership table, harbouring ambitions of competing for a European spot and new arrivals due to check in to Fir Park – 2022 promises to be an exciting year.
Keith Lasley took charge of the team for the visit to Hamilton, searching to end a run of eight game without a victory, though the miserable run would continue as Accies eased to a 3-0 victory.
Graham Alexander was appointed as the new ‘Well boss ahead of the trip to St Mirren and the team responded with a much-improved showing in Paisley. Devante Cole opened the scoring, but the new gaffer was denied victory in his first match in controversial fashion when Bobby Madden awarded a penalty when Lee Erwin went down inside the box. Jamie McGrath converted the resulting kick and took the winless streak to 10.
Cole was on target again as Alexander’s side put in a spirited showing against runaway leaders Rangers, though again the boys in claret and amber were unable to hold on to their advantage – Cedric Itten equalising to ensure the spoils were shared.
Liam Polworth was dismissed in the 2-0 defeat at Aberdeen, before ‘Well finally celebrated a victory, defeating Ross County in Dingwall. Oli Shaw had fired the visitors ahead, but Cole levelled early in the second half before Bevis Mugabi’s extraordinary towering header earned a crucial three-points.
The January transfer window brought plenty of activity, with no fewer than eight new signings. Robbie Crawford, Sam Foley and Steven Lawless came in on permanent deals, while Liam Kelly, Tyler Maglorie, Eddie Nolan, Jordan Roberts and Harry Smith joined on loan.
Despite ending their long winless run, Motherwell were still heavily involved in a battle at the foot of the Premiership table, therefore it was imperative they followed up the win at County with a run of positive results. They did just that as goals from Cole and Chris Long inside the first 28 minutes had them looking comfortable against Dundee United at Fir Park. The visitors pulled a goal back late on but were unable to force a leveller – ensuring two wins on the spin for ‘Well.
Allan Campbell’s goal at Celtic Park was not enough to help the team from falling to a 2-1 defeat, but the midfielder came up with a precious goal four days later at Rugby Park to earn a 1-0 victory and move Motherwell eight-points above Hamilton at the bottom of the table.
It seemed things were looking up, but back-to-back crushing home defeats against Hamilton (1-4) and St Johnstone (0-3) set off alarm bells and suddenly the relegation dogfight was back on.
A 0-0 draw at St Mirren at least stopped the rot, though the trip to Easter Road in the final game of a busy February was of huge importance.
Against all odds and expectation levels, the team responded with one of their best showings of the season. Roberts linked magnificently with Tony Watt to open the scoring and Cole struck in the first minute of the second half to continue his impressive scoring streak and secure a 2-0 win.
The month began with another important victory to help ease relegation fears. Cole bagged a brace and Chris Long was on target as Livingston were defeated 3-1 at Fir Park.
In their last game prior to the split, Motherwell were thrashed 4-1 at Rugby Park – ensuring there was still work to do in the remaining five league matches.
The Scottish Cup brought some welcome respite from league endeavours and a handful of supporters managed to find a vantage point to take in the 5-0 victory at Formartine.
Cole grabbed the only goal of the game to defeat St Mirren at Fir Park and all but secure Premiership safety before the focus turned back to cup matters.
Morton travelled to Fir Park with a place in the last-eight of the Scottish Cup up for grabs. A terrible 90 minutes brought no goals, but Stephen O’Donnell netted what looked certain to be the winning goal in the final minute of extra time. In typical Motherwell style however, they would not do things the easy way – Markus Fjortoft equalising two minutes later and send the game to penalties. In the end, Liam Kelly was the hero, saving from Sean McGinty to set up a quarter final clash with Hibernian at Easter Road.
Mark O’Hara’s first half goal was enough to earn victory over Hamilton – the first time ‘Well had won a derby since August 2019 and in turn guarantee a thirty-seventh successive season in the top-flight.
Motherwell visited the capital with a place in the last four of the Scottish Cup up for grabs and despite a sensational late comeback to recover from 2-0 down to level at 2-2, O’Hara and Steven Lawless both missed penalties in the shootout – meaning the Steelmen exited the competition on penalties for the second year running.
With Premiership survival secure, the pressure was off for the last three games of the campaign. A good showing against Kilmarnock brought a 2-0 victory and for the second time in three matches, the team would battle back from 2-0 down – goals from Chris Long and Devante Cole turning things around to snatch a point at Tannadice.
The curtain came down on the 2020/21 season with a home defeat against Ross County, Sam Foley put ‘Well ahead early on, but Iain Vigurs and Michael Gardyne both netted in the second half to ensure County’s Premiership survival.
As the season ended, several players departed Fir Park, including fan favourite Allan Campbell, Devante Cole and Chris Long, while Connor Shields joined the club on a free transfer from Queen of the South.
Graham Alexander continued to bolster his attacking options with the additions of Justin Amaluzor from Maidstone United and Kaiyne Woolery who joined on a three-year-deal after leaving Tranmere Rovers.
Stephen O’Donnell played in all three of Scotland’s European Championship matches, including a superb showing in the 0-0 draw with England at Wembley.
Striker Kevin van Veen signed for Motherwell at the beginning of July, and this was followed up by Liam Kelly delighting ‘Well supporters by putting pen to paper on a permanent deal with the club.
Trevor Carson left Fir Park to join Dundee United shortly after the arrival of Kelly, though by the end of the month a further four new faces would be added to the squad including Callum Slattery and Juhani Ojala.
The Premier Sports Cup campaign began with a 1-0 victory over Queen’s Park at Firhill and Fir Park finally welcomed back fans for the 3-2 success over Queen of the South. After a lengthy wait to return to stadiums, 2,000 fans were picked from a ballot to attend, though things did not start well on an emotional day in ML1 as the Championship side scored twice in the final five minutes of the first half to take a 2-0 lead. Motherwell responded however, and goals from Tony Watt, Ricki Lamie and Kaiyne Woolery clinched a dramatic win.
Airdrie sprung a shock by defeating ‘Well 2-0 in the first derby match between the sides since 2007, but the Steelmen did recover to win the group by defeating Annan in their final group stage match.
The league season began with a 3-2 defeat at home to Hibernian in an entertaining encounter at Fir Park. Kevin van Veen got the opening goal of the game and Bevis Mugabi headed the hosts 2-1 in front, but Christian Doidge scrambled the ball into the net and Martin Boyle scored from the penalty spot to clinch all three points for the Easter Road side.
Tony Watt scored late on to help Motherwell pick up their first point of the season with a 1-1 draw at McDiarmid Park, but there was disappointment the week later when a poor display at Dens Park ended in a 1-0 defeat and sent Graham Alexander’s side crashing out of the Premier Sports Cup.
Liam Grimshaw finally netted his first goal in claret and amber to seal a 2-1 win at Livingston and the month ended with the first home league win – a 1-0 victory over Dundee courtesy of Watt’s third goal in four games.
Graham Alexander brought in Sean Goss, Sondre Johansen and Jordan Roberts as the transfer window drew to a close.
An excellent showing was rewarded with an excellent result as Aberdeen were dispatched 2-0 at Fir Park and despite no travelling fans being inside Ibrox for the league fixture at Ibrox the following week, Kaiyne Woolery silenced the home fans with a second half equaliser to ensure ‘Well left Ibrox with a share of the spoils.
The month ended with Ross County visiting Fir Park and although Motherwell were not at their best, Tony Watt fired home the winning goal 10 minutes from time to ensure a 2-1 win.
After picking up seven points from a possible nine in September, Graham Alexander was named the Premiership ‘Manager of the Month’ – his second monthly award in five months.
Hearts defeated ‘Well 2-0 at Tynecastle to start what would be an October to forget. Losses at home to Celtic and away to Dundee United followed, before a controversial 2-2 draw with St Mirren at Fir Park. Tony Watt’s double looked to have set the home side on the way to their first league win in three matches, but Saints struck back through Eamon Brophy. With 12 minutes left on the clock, Sondre Solholm Johansen was adjudged to have fouled Brophy inside the box, the Saints striker was his initial effort saved by Liam Kelly, though after referee Bobby Madden deemed the Motherwell keeper to have strayed from his line – he made no mistake second time round.
Further misery followed in a Halloween horror show against Rangers, where despite taking the lead, the Steelmen were thrashed 6-1.
After only picking up a single point from their last five Premiership matches, a trip to Pittodrie looked to be a daunting prospect for ‘Well, though a superb double from Kevin van Veen sealed another 2-0 win against the Dons and moved the team back up to fifth in the table.
Stephen O’Donnell played a big role for Scotland once again as Steve Clarke’s side booked a World Cup play-off spot by defeating Denmark 2-0 at Hampden and the theme of 2-0 wins continued when goals from Connor Shields and Ricki Lamie saw off Hearts by the same scoreline at Fir Park.
Graham Alexander’s side were enjoying a good run of victories, though they were sent crashing back to earth with a bump when they were thrashed 3-0 at Dens Park in a match where they were second best throughout.
The Sky cameras were in attendance on St Andrew’s Day, with Dundee United visiting North Lanarkshire. Tony Watt scored the only goal of the game early on – a sensational effort from the edge of the box that left Benjamin Siegrist with no chance. The remainder of the game was played out in tropical conditions, but the Steelmen showed tremendous resolve to claim a richly deserved three-points.
Motherwell announced the signing of Republic of Ireland U21 international Ross Tierney on a three-year-deal. The 20-year-old will join in January at the start of the winter transfer window.
A hectic month began with a well-deserved point at Easter Road and again, it was Tony Watt who got the goal – moving the striker top of the Premiership scoring charts.
Eight days later, ‘Well took the trip along the M74 to take on Celtic and despite producing a spirited showing, they would leave empty handed. Callum Slattery’s shot rattled the crossbar and Sean Goss was denied brilliantly by Joe Hart, before the hosts scored the only goal of the game in first half stoppage time.
In their final game before Christmas, Motherwell eased past St Johnstone at Fir Park. Dean Cornelius scored his first goal in claret and amber to complete his journey from the stands to starring for the Steelmen and Kevin van Veen netted his fifth goal of the season to secure a valuable three-points.
The Dutch striker was on target again in the 2-1 victory over Livingston in the final game of the year – firing home a sensational free kick to open the scoring before heading home the second with 21 minute remaining in an encounter played out in front of just 500 fans.