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Valdas Ivanauskas <-auth Richard Wilson auth-> Iain Brines
13 of 040 Jamie Mole 69 L SPL A

McDonald steeled for Fir Park scrap

Richard Wilson

The Australian striker faces Hearts today committed to helping Motherwell out of their slump having made his peace with the club
A HANDFUL of Motherwell players are lounging around the Fir Park dressing room, resting after lunch and before they head up to the gym. When Scott McDonald walks in, they come to life. “Still here, and still s***e,” taunts one in reference to McDonald’s failed transfer request in the summer; “hurry up and score a few goals,” jibes another; and the good-natured barbs bounce off him harmlessly. The words reverberating round these same four walls last Saturday, after the 4-1 defeat by Inverness, would have been more pained, more angry, but less specifically aimed. Responsibility for the crestfallen nature of the team’s start to the season is evenly-shared amongst the players. “We’ve all got to hold our hands up,” claims McDonald. “We’re all at fault.”

Motherwell have been a team impaired this season, unable to fully realise their worth. The campaign has brought only two wins, one of which came in the CIS Cup against Partick Thistle, the other in the Premierleague against Falkirk, and they are bottom of the table. With manager Terry Butcher having left for Sydney FC during the summer, and been replaced by his assistant, Maurice Malpas, the tendency has been to see that change as affecting the team’s fortunes. McDonald, though, insists that the malaise cannot be so easily explained away.

“It’s hard to put your finger on it,” he says. “Individual errors have cost us and we need to eradicate them. We’ve let the manager down, including myself, and we need to step up and be counted. The manager can only do so much, putting his team out and doing the right things, and then it’s up to us. We’re only six games in, there’s no panic. It’s important that we don’t dwell on things, but just get on with the next game. We have to kick-start our season.”

Motherwell have a good record at home against Hearts, their opponents today, having not lost to them at Fir Park since March 2002, a run sparked by an emphatic 6-1 success in December 2002 when the team were similarly struggling. Yet there is little to be gained from looking into the past for succour. Something has changed, even if it is not the nature of the club, the team’s approach or, mainly, the players themselves. Malpas was part of the old regime, so his new one is much the same, but an alteration has occurred none the less. It is as though the team has mislaid its sense of self, the instincts and guile that have proved so valiantly effective.

“The old manager was very charismatic all the time, he’d get very upset and you’d see it,” McDonald adds. “Maurice is a bit more reserved, he’ll leave it for behind closed doors, with the boys. But they’re very similar in ways. He alpas certainly makes his feelings known if he’s not happy. The gaffer’s emphasising the same things as always, it’s the boys who put it into practice who are at fault.”

McDonald, a chirpy, resourceful character, is striving to ensure his own optimism. He has scored in his last two matches and feels that his own form is beginning to focus into something clearer. He has had to approach this campaign with a sense of stoicism, though. During the summer, McDonald handed in a transfer request. feeling that at 23, and after two seasons at the club, it was time to provide the impetus for a change in circumstances. Yet in a phone call and then a face-to-face meeting with Malpas, he was advised that with two years left on his contract, he would not be leaving.

“It might have left a few people unhappy, but I’m still here and I’m fully committed,” he stresses.“It’s done now and I can’t look back on it. The way I see it, I’m one of the boys and I just want to score goals, play well without worrying about who’s watching or what’s going to go on when the transfer window comes around. That’s not in my mind. It must have been difficult for Malpas, but it was never about who was coming in as manager. We had a good man-to-man chat and I’m 100% behind him.”

McDonald earned his second cap in Australia’s 2-0 defeat to Kuwait in an Asian Cup qualifier earlier this month and so he feels that his ambitions are hardening again into reality. When he was 14, he wrote down a list of five things that he wanted to achieve before he was 18, and he managed three of them: to play for Victoria State, to represent Australia and to play in the Premiership (he made his Southampton debut in 2001, aged 17, in a 3-1 home defeat by Aston Villa). “I think one of the others was to play for the full national team,” he says, grinning. And what might he write now? “To earn lots of money and never have to work again.”

He laughs ebulliently. Some hopes lie out of reach for now, but Motherwell are not lost yet. McDonald, and the rest of his teammates, need to collectively restore their credibility.

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