Centre midfielder (playing on the right)
v Aberdeen (13/03/15)
Settling down into my sofa for BT Sport’s latest instalment of Friday night football (well I wasn’t going to make it up to Aberdeen for quarter to eight on a working day), I was torn on which player to focus on for this article. Motherwell’s slight upturn in form recently, coupled with the fact they had been one of the busier Scottish Premiership sides during the transfer window, meant there were plenty candidates in the Steelmen’s line up.
Scott McDonald, back at the club for a second time, was considered but at the risk of him being an isolated striker in a Jimmy Nicholl-inspired double-sweeper system, I decided to pick someone further back and more likely to see the ball.
Thus, I skimmed through the new recruits at Fir Park and noticed that one of them, Conor Grant, didn’t even have a Wikipedia page. From the little information that was available on the 19-year-old midfielder, I was intrigued to notice that he was an Everton youngster, that he apparently possesses an “eye for goal” and that he had represented England at youth level. My expectations were brought rapidly back down to earth when it dawned on me that exactly the same was once said of Francis Jeffers.
After 45 minutes of Friday’s match, my initial fears for Motherwell had been quashed. Not only had they set up and intended to play in a positive manner, they enjoyed the better of the play and headed into the break with a narrow lead, courtesy of the not-so-isolated McDonald.
Motherwell began the match in a 4-4-1-1 formation with Stephen Pearson and Keith Lasley providing a solid base in the centre of midfield and allowing the wide midfielders to push on at every opportunity. McDonald started just off Lee Erwin in attack, although it appeared that both were instructed to either drop deep or wide in order to link with the midfield, which they both managed effectively.
Grant began the match as one of these wide midfielders and he linked especially well with McDonald in the first half. The Everton loanee started on the right, despite being left-footed, and this meant he was more inclined to drift inside to receive and play passes rather than to stay out wide and look to put in crosses. In fact, other than his two deliveries from corners – the less said about the quality of those, the better – Grant only attempted one cross in his 65 minutes on the pitch, which was blocked.
Only once did he attempt to run towards the byline with the ball, early in the second half, but found himself easily dispossessed by Andrew Considine, his direct opponent for the match. It should be noted that, in Considine, Grant was up against one of best full-backs in the Scottish Premiership this season, in what is the Aberdeen defender’s testimonial year.
Whether it was to escape the attentions of Considine or else his left-sided nature, more often than not Grant was inclined to find space in the centre of the pitch and look for the ball. And this appeared to be his greatest strength: in the first half he received the ball from a teammate on 12 occasions, of those he attempted a pass 11 times and only once did he fail to find a teammate – which happened to be the first pass he attempted in the game.
For the majority of those instances, Grant would comfortably take one or two touches, often in tight spaces, then quickly find a pass before darting off into space. When he received the ball in space centrally his instinct was to turn and drive towards goal and look for a defence-splitting through ball. On one occasion he sent Erwin through though the young striker would have been better placed to punish Aberdeen had he shown a similar level of composure to that of Grant.
Much of Motherwell’s success in the first half was based upon organisation and defensive discipline and, even though Grant only attempted to tackle his opponents three times and only made two interceptions, he always moved quickly back into position when his side were out of possession. This despite the fact the attacking side of his game involves wandering out of position so often.
For all Motherwell’s hard work in the opening period, it was undone by two horrendous blunders within minutes of the restart. Almost instantaneously, a solid first half display from a team on the rise turned into a familiar feeling of impending defeat. This meant that for the tenth time in his 13 matches in charge, Ian Baraclough was deliberating about how to salvage something from the wreckage of a car crash defence.
It must have been frustrating for some of the more attacking players in the Motherwell side to see their lead slip from them in such a manner. As a result, the visitors’ play became less composed and more rushed and this affected Grant as much as any other player. He misplaced a few passes and lost the ball when attempting to dribble for the first time in the match.
Nonetheless, he was unfortunate to see himself replaced on 65 minutes by Lionel Ainsworth. Grant displayed enough spark and creative potential in the first half to warrant staying on the pitch longer, maybe even in a more central position where he could potentially hurt Aberdeen more.
Overall it was an impressive display from a young player finding his way at a new club in a different league – a club that was severely out of form upon his arrival. If Grant continues to show the same confidence, quality and composure as he did in the first 45 minutes of this match, he will be an invaluable part of Motherwell’s bid to stay in the top flight this season.
Of that I am certain.
The Football Critic
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