The SPL since its formation in 1998 has never seen a team from outside the old firm be crowned champions which is not surprising. Aberdeen being the last side to win the Scottish League Premier Division, as it was called back then in 1984-85 season. This side was guided by no other than Sir Alex Ferguson which in a way can highlight just how difficult it is. Though looking beyond the old firm, 3rd place was a title in itself for most sides in the SPL, 3rd place offering a qualifying spot in Europe. The old firm has established themselves as the big two within the league but no team has managed to solidify themselves as an intermediate level between the two and cement 3rd place year after year. This year Motherwell have rose to the challenge and sit 3rd, deservedly so.

No team since Hearts back in the 02-03 and 03-04 season has been able to finish 3rd two years running. Many teams have finished 3rd within the years, ranging from St Johnstone, Aberdeen, Livingston, St Johnston and Dundee United and Hearts. Though none of these teams have successfully managed to build upon a season of success. Most recently Hearts secured 3rd place pipping Dundee United. Hears looked to be building for the future through the finances of the infamous Vladmir Romanov, a name that now sends shivers down the spines of most Hearts fans.

The Romanov era showed promise after securing 3rd place. The signings of such players such as John Sutton, Jamie Hamill, Mehdi Taouil and Danny Grainger to bolster an already capable squad. All of these players possessed SPL experience and in Sutton and Taouil, goals and flair could be key to another successful season. Jim Jefferies looked to be going about developing Hearts in the right way, holding onto players and building a strong squad. Upon paper, many could not argue with the solidness of the Hearts squad with Zaluikas, Webster along with the flair of Templeton coupled with the goals of John Sutton and Kevin Kyle. Many believed in a strong performance from the Edinburgh club this season. However it was not to be, with the departure of Jim Jefferies through poor club form and dark clouds forming around Hearts finances. The club stumbled out the start gates and just as momentum was beginning to take form following the appointment of Paulo Sergio, the club was again thrown into disarray with the discovery of Hearts players failing to have been paid since the month of October. However through this failure, Motherwell have rose through the leadership of Stuart McCall.

What makes Motherwell any different from any other club that begins the season brightly and looks to secure 3rd place? Well nothing really stands out in the difference of this Motherwell side to the Hearts side that took the spot in the 2010-2011 season. However, this side has quickly rose to 3rd spot and only recently due to a much improved Celtic performance have dropped out the race for 2nd place. A never say never approach has been instilled in this current crop of players through a man well known for his all or nothing approach upon the pitch. Stuart McCall has brought his knowledge of the lower leagues of England to Motherwell and the effect is clear to see. McCall brought in Nicky Law and had an immediate impact upon the Steelmens midfield along with the signing of pacey winger Omar Daley on a bossman. Other signings such as Micheal Higdon and Tom Clancy, from rival SPL sides, offered much SPL experience. Stephen Hughes return to Motherwell has also seen a player with much experience contribute to the team.

Motherwell possess a very capable goalkeeper in that of Randolph who has been number 1 at the club since his arrival. Stephen Craigan sits at the heart of the defence and the Northern Irish internationalist is invaluable in the organisation of the team. Like Craigan, the experience and consistent performances of Keith Lasley have been key to Motherwells success this season. Lasley organises the midfield and forms a promising partnership with Steve Jennings. McCall has also been able to the get the best out of Tom Hately, son of ex-Rangers striker Mark Hately. Tom Hately unlike his father, is known for his quality in dead ball situations and brings flair and technique to Motherwells midfield. Omar Daley and Chris Humphrey provide Motherwell with pace and directness down the wings which are key in getting the best out of top goal scorer Micheal Higdon. Higdon who arrived from St.Mirren in the summer, has formed a strong partnership with Jamie Murphy and the pair have contributed 13 goals in 18 games. All be it not prolific, nonetheless valuable to Motherwells success.

McCall has taken a Motherwell side from 6th place in 2010-11 to a team that was chasing 2nd place. Most of McCalls success is build upon very strong away form which has seen the Lanarkshire club claim 7 wins and only 1 loss from 9 games with only their home form preventing even a greater climb up the table. As the table stands, a win from Motherwells game in hand, against Hibernian, would bring the side within 7 points of Celtic and create an 11 point gap between 4th place St.Johnstone.

Can McCall maintain this brilliant start to the season which has seen his side lose only 4 times, 3 of which to old firm opposition. His side have been fortunate in not receiving injuries to many key players, though watching Motherwell this season you cant argue with the change that McCall has brought. Can McCall maintain this great run of form and maybe even create a 3rd team as such within the SPL and I myself would welcome this.

C’mon the Steelmen!

By Gavin Knox – You can follow him on twitter @gav_42