Motherwell boss Graham Alexander admits qualifying for Europe was all the sweeter in the wake of what he felt was “unjustified” criticism weeks earlier.
Alexander’s side are back in fourth spot in the cinch Premiership following consecutive wins over Ross County and Hearts. They occupied that position at the winter break but then went on a run of one win in 15 league matches.
Ricki Lamie’s last-gasp equaliser against Livingston squeezed Motherwell into the top six and they overcame the odds to seal a top-five place ahead of Saturday’s final game at Celtic Park despite losing their first two games after the split.
Motherwell celebrated following victory over Hearts on Wednesday but they had gone into April without a league win in 2022 and Alexander faced criticism from fans over tactics and team selections ahead of a crucial victory against St Mirren.
“It does make it sweeter,” he said. “I’m not going to lie. Because it was almost like our first 20 games of the season didn’t exist for some people. Like somehow we had won a golden ticket to get into the top six.
“I thought it was over the course of a season – 21/22, not just 22. We won enough games, scored enough goals and got the points we needed to earn our place in the top six.
“It did seem as if the first 20 games did not ever happen, didn’t exist, for some reason. I think it was wrong.
“I understood the form we were in wasn’t great but then at the split you are where you are because you deserve to be.
“We have overcome a lot of challenges this season. Some of them documented, some not. So for us to achieve what we have done, I think we can pat ourselves on the back little bit, because not many other people will be patting us on the back.
“I do understand the run was too long without winning a game. I take that. But for it to overshadow everything we had done, I thought was a bit unjustified to be honest.”
Alexander pinpointed the “character, personality, hard work, belief” that turned their results around and Motherwell will need those traits at Celtic Park as they are still being affected by a bug which has seen the likes of Bevis Mugabi and Mark O’Hara miss recent games.
“We have had a few calls in between Wednesday and now with more players dropping out with illness,” Alexander said.
“We will have to wait until Saturday morning to see who is okay and pick a team from that.
“But as you have seen from the last two games players have come to the fore and contributed to the team, some unexpected players coming into the team and squad, but they have all been ready to play their part. That will have to be the same case.”
Kevin Van Veen has played through the illness in the past two wins, coming off the bench to make the difference each time.
“It’s still not out of the system,” the striker said. “I had high temperatures and stayed in bed for eight or nine days. I didn’t feel good at all at Ross County. To win 1-0 and make the difference with the penalty was a great feeling.
“I went straight back to bed after that. Hearts came around and I still didn’t feel better but it was a great feeling to get two wins. I’m not fully fit but it’s getting slightly better and I am taking some medication.”
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