When Ian Baraclough took over as Manager of Motherwell following the departure of Stuart McCall Graham Barnstaple’s first reaction was – who?
After a quick internet search I found out he had managed Sligo Rovers to the Irish League Title and also found a video talking about how he did it. This gave me a comfort that we had appointed someone who knew what he was doing and would have a plan to get us out of the mess we were in.
His early days were spent trying to motivate McCall’s players, and it looked as though he had as the “new manager bounce” brought two early wins. But hammerings by Aberdeen and Hamilton around Christmas/New Year were a more accurate barometer of where we were and no signs of a long term improvement with the current squad.
Eleven players came in during the January transfer window, including Stephen Pearson, Marvin Johnson, George Long and Louis Laing who all contributed. He also brought in a couple of players who will live long in the memory for the wrong reason, Nathan Thomas played 45 minutes and was terrible and was consigned to the under 20s. The other was Anthony Straker who many thought was one of the worst players ever to play for the club.
The board and the manager did pull a rabbit from the hat in February when they brought back Scott McDonald as a free agent. This combined with the return from injury of Stephen Pearson gave the side an immediate lift with a win at home over Inverness Caley Thistle.
With Ross County improving rapidly after signing well in January it looked like a straight forward dog fight between ourselves and St. Mirren for 11th and 12th. Thankfully Saints turned out to be worse than us and clinched 12th place.
There were glimmers of hope along the way with a humping of Hamilton at Fir Park (followed by a reciprocal humping at NDP after the split!) and two wins against Kilmarnock to ensure the play offs were the worst case scenario.
There was a real fear when Rangers worked their way through the Championship play offs for the pleasure of taking on the Well. Motherwell’s record at Ibrox was abysmal not having won there in over 20 years.
Somehow Baraclough pulled off a tactical master stroke, dropped McDonald off the main striker and sucked Rangers in to hit on the counter with the pace of Ainsworth and Johnson. We had to pinch ourselves when we were 3-0 up early in the second half. A late goal did leave some doubt in the back of our minds ahead of the return leg at Fir Park, but the same tactics worked again and a comfortable 6-1 aggregate win was secured and Baraclough lived to fight another day.
The close season saw an army of players leave Fir Park allowing Baraclough to re-shape the squad with his own players and a chance to put his stamp on the side. On paper the players brought in looked to have something about them. They were either successful lower League players in England, Louis Moult and Wes Fletcher, or youngsters with a decent pedigree, eg Kieren Kennedy and Conor Ripley.
Things looked positive on the opening day of the season with an impressive 1-0 away win at Scottish Cup holders Inverness. More significantly in this game, Stephen Pearson picked up an injury which would keep him out of the rest of Baraclough’s reign.
The wheel’s soon fell off after this one with five straight league defeats leaving Baraclough looking a beleaguered figure each week, and the fans starting to turn against him. More players were brought in at what appeared to be random, Jake Taylor and Liam Grimshaw in midfield on loan from Reading and Manchester United respectively and a third goalie in former Killie man Craig Samson.
All three making the manager look a little desperate in his attempts to get things right.
He survived his first “big week” of the season by scraping past East Fife in the League Cup and then beating Killie on the Saturday to stay off the bottom of the table. More cracks were papered over in the next League game with a stoppage time equaliser from Moult securing a point against Ross County.
This set up another “big week” of must win games, the first last Saturday at New Douglas Park, which was lost 1-0 with a performance that summed his time in charge. At times Motherwell looked okay but never really threatened but always looked nervy at the other end when Hamilton attacked.
Tuesday was his last chance as we travelled to Cappielow and I like many Motherwell fans couldn’t believe the side he put out, no Ainsworth, Moult or McDonald – the only three fit players who had scored this season! This led to the inevitable defeat and the equally inevitable sacking of the manager.
During his time at Fir Park I had the chance to speak to the manager on a number of occasions and found him to be a likeable and affable guy, which made me desperate to see him succeed. Sadly for him the results didn’t follow and 12 wins from 34 games and the team still only four points off the bottom were statistics that were not going to keep him in a job.
As the official statement from the club said we would like to thank him for his efforts and wish him well in the future as it just wasn’t meant to be at Fir Park.