Jan 16 2013 By Andrew Weston
Motherwell assistant boss Kenny Black has backed the club to finish the season strongly but expects a fight to the end for a Europa League spot.
With Celtic virtually assured of making it back-to-back league titles this year, the race is on to finish in the top three, with second and third guaranteed the chance to qualify for next season’s Europa League group stages.
The Scottish Cup route into Europe is now off the agenda for Motherwell following defeat to Aberdeen in December, so all attention is now on matching or bettering last season’s third-place finish.
“We will have a major push between now and the end of the season and try to finish as high up as we can,” Black said this week.
“There are no distractions and are fully focused on that. If we can keep the squad intact and injury-free, then it will give us a chance although teams like Aberdeen, Dundee United, Hibs and Inverness, who have done tremendously well, will have other ideas.
“The games in Europe were terrific this season and gave not only the players but back room staff a great experience. But there are plenty of sides pushing for places.”
With Jamie Murphy having left Motherwell this month to join Sheffield United, Black is keen to retain the services of the remainder of the squad but is aware that interest could come from other clubs in the next fortnight and most certainly in the summer.
Black continued: “We were disappointed to lose Jamie but we would be hoping there would be no other interest for any of the other players in January because we know there will be plenty of interest come the summer.
“We are braced for that although this month you can’t stop clubs coming to have a look at your players.
“If a club came in with a serious offer then it is something we would have to seriously think about. But we are certainly hoping to keep the squad together.”
Motherwell did move quickly to replace Murphy last week snapping up former Falkirk striker Kallum Higginbotham from Huddersfield Town on loan until the end of the season.
The 22-year-old had been training at Motherwell prior to Murphy’s
departure and when the deal with Sheffield United was concluded, the Steelmen moved for Higginbotham.
“I am looking forward to working with him,” Black said. “He showed when he was at Falkirk that he could play and got himself a move to Huddersfield. That didn’t quite work out for him with the change of manager but he has got ability and we are just delighted to give him a platform to play football until the end of the season.
“He can play as a striker or just off the front as well as in the wide areas so he is quite versatile that way.
“His performances when at Falkirk alerted a lot of clubs last season and I remember watching him do really well in a game against Rangers in the League Cup, which they won. He has showed up well in training and is raring to go.”
Motherwell return to action on Sunday against St Johnstone following the short winter break and former Airdrie manager Black hopes to secure three points at Fir Park, saying: “They’re always entertaining affairs and we will have to be at our best. They are a good side.”