KIL­MARNOCK v MOTHER­WELL Mccall knows how easy it is for a good sea­son to go awry

The Herald - Herald Sport - - Clydesdale Bank Premier League - GRAEME MACPHER­SON and STE­WART FISHER

ENNY SHIELS has turned psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare into some­thing of an art since be­com­ing Kil­marnock man­ager last year but Stu­art Mccall has no in­ten­tion of get­ting in­volved in any mind games with his op­po­site num­ber this af­ter­noon. “I’m not bright enough,” laughed the Mother­well man­ager with typ­i­cal self-dep­re­ca­tion.

Mccall has no need to do any­thing too fancy in any case. Mother­well are en­joy­ing a rich vein of form and will move above Rangers and into sec­ond place in the Cly­des­dale Bank Premier League – for a day at least – should they avoid de­feat at Rugby Park this af­ter­noon. Given Mccall’s tar­get last sum­mer was just to fin­ish in the top six, this has been a sea­son that has so far sur­passed all ex­pec­ta­tions.

“It was go­ing to be nip and tuck just to get in the top six so to be where we are now, and in a po­si­tion to move into sec­ond even it it’s just for a short pe­riod, is be­yond our wildest thoughts,” he ad­mit­ted. “I’m still aware of teams be­low us but the play­ers have got us in a very strong po­si­tion so we have to build on that. Our form is good; in our last seven league games we’ve won five, drawn with St Mir­ren and lost nar­rowly at Celtic. So we’re in good shape.”

Mccall, how­ever, re­called a late-sea­son col­lapse from his time at Brad­ford City as he warned against pre­ma­ture con­grat­u­la­tion. “There was a time at Brad­ford when we got into Fe­bru­ary or March and we’d been in the top three all sea­son,” he said. “We’d had a lot of pats on the back for our per­for­mances and sud­denly we started to slide down the ta­ble. Play­ers who had been do­ing well lost con­fi­dence and we ended up fin­ish­ing out­side the play-offs by a cou­ple of points. Hope­fully that won’t hap­pen to us but we’ll ac­cept any plau­dits come the end of the sea­son if or when the job’s done.”

Then there is the Old Firm an­gle. Celtic can only win the league at Ibrox to­mor­row should Mother­well fail to take all three points this af­ter­noon, cre­at­ing the un­usual sce­nario of Rangers fans will­ing Mccall’s side to pros­per at Rugby Park even though it will mean them go­ing above Ally Mccoist’s side in the ta­ble.

“As tough a game as it will be for Rangers, I’m sure they’d rather [deny Celtic the ti­tle] off their own steam,” Mccall added. “We’re just go­ing to fo­cus on what we have to do which is get as many points as we can to fin­ish as high up the ta­ble as pos­si­ble.”

Kil­marnock will pa­rade the Scot­tish Com­mu­ni­ties League Cup won last week­end be­fore hold­ing a minute’s si­lence in mem­ory of Liam Kelly’s fa­ther, Jack, who died in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of that Ham­p­den suc­cess. “It will be quite an emo­tional day,” said Mccall. “Re­al­is­ti­cally it will be tough for Kil­marnock to make the top six but we’ve got

Stu­art Mccall has taken Mother­well from chal­leng­ing for the top six last sea­son to be­ing on the cusp of sec­ond place this af­ter­noon. Picture: SNS

ev­ery­thing to play for still. Hope­fully our de­sire can get us the three points.”

The vary­ing emo­tions of last week­end are still felt acutely around Rugby Park. Among them is a sense of disp­point­ment at Celtic’s decision to re­main in the dress­ing room as Kil­marnock lifted the cup, with Lee John­son be­liev­ing the Park­head side showed a lack of re­spect and breached cup final eti­quette in do­ing so. There are dif­fer­ring opin­ions upon what, if any­thing, is ex­pected of a beaten fi­nal­list in such cir­cum­stances but the mid­fielder has been in the op­po­site po­si­tion when los­ing the Cham­pi­onship play-off final with Bris­tol City against Hull City back in 2008 and he for one feels it was poor form.

“I was pretty dis­ap­pointed they didn’t watch us lift the tro­phy,” said John­son. “Per­son­ally I thought that was poor. It’s not a ma­jor is­sue but I just felt it’s some­thing I would never do if you’re a player and you get beat in the cup final. I played the play-off final with Bris­tol City. It’s the big­gest fi­nan­cial game in foot­ball. We lost it but still hung around to ap­plaud Hull. I was dev­as­tated. I was cry­ing my eyes out.

“That was a life-chang­ing game if we had gone up. The club would have won £100m, the play­ers would have tre­bled our con­tracts. Our fam­i­lies would have been se­cure for­ever but it didn’t work out that way. Things like that just stoke up the next game and make you think about win­ning again.”

John­son, the son of for­mer Latvia coach and cur­rent Yeovil Town man­ager Gary, signed a two-and-a-half year deal when he joined on a free trans­fer from Bris­tol in Fe­bru­ary and feels his side’s cup win is in­dica­tive of a lev­el­ling off in the Scot­tish game. “In the past teams were beaten men­tally be­fore they played the game,” he said. “That’s the one thing you’ll never get with me. I won’t be beaten be­fore the game starts. I’ve got a be­lief that Scot­tish foot­ball is com­ing closer to­gether. It’s go­ing to be tight over the next cou­ple of years. I don’t think two teams will run away with it the way they have in the past.

“Ev­ery time a team like us beats a gi­ant like Celtic it stokes the fire. It helps ev­ery­one else be­lieve that on any given day they can turn them over.”

The English­man, who was on the books at Hearts when they won the Scot­tish Cup in 2006, and won the FA Tro­phy at Yeovil, hopes the feel­good fac­tor at Kil­marnock will feed into their meet­ing with Mother­well. In ad­di­tion to parad­ing the tro­phy, the Rugby Park side have also dropped the gate prices. “I’ve been milk­ing it for the last few days. I won a lot on the spin . . . then won noth­ing for five years. You’ve got to en­joy it as the bad times ain’t too far round the corner.”

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