There’s plenty to admire about Motherwell football club.

It’s sometimes hard to express it without an accidental tone of condescension or patronism, but really, they forever feel like a club enveloped by dignity and principles.

Fan-owned, award-winning club media, raising money to donate season tickets to those that can't afford them and continually highlighting the scourge of mental health problems and suicide while encouraging people not to put a cork in their troubling feelings, they’re embedded in their community and are operated with their fanbase at the core of the club’s concern.

Forever impressing off the pitch, the last decade has been pretty sweet for Motherwell on it, too.

Unfortunate to come up against Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic in both cup finals of 17/18, they were the “best of the rest” in third place when the coronavirus pandemic curtailed Scottish football in March of last year.

They also nabbed a couple of second places in seasons 12/13 and 13/14, which immediately followed on from a third-placed finish in 11/12, but preceded a narrow miss with relegation the season after when they overcame Rangers in the play-off final.

READ MORE: When will Christopher Jullien make his long-awaited return from injury?

Last season was a fairly rough ride for the Steelmen and their faithful but relegation was staved off comfortably in the end – they actually finished on the same number of points as St Johnstone in the top six! The season started poorly with Stephen Robinson in charge but after he was replaced by Graham Alexander at the turn of the year their fortunes improved rather quickly and that’s continued this season – they’ve won half of their eight games and sit on 14 points, 11 clear of the play-off position already and not far from second-placed Hearts. Oh, and they’re a point ahead of Celtic.

Organisation has been the foundation stone of Motherwell sides for a couple of seasons now and that’s still the case despite the change of manager. They average 40 per cent possession due to their comfort in shape and solidity but are dangerous on the break – just under half of their counter-attacks result in a shot on goal – and nearly 66 per cent of their passes into the final third are accurate.

They’re also capable of causing grief from crosses, a third of their deliveries find the intended target -often Tony Watt, Kevin Van Veen or a centre-back - and six of their goals this season have come from crosses from wide or deep. In fact, they’ve created 27 chances from the channels so far this term compared to 18 from working the ball through the middle of the park. Their impressive 2-0 win over a lacklustre Aberdeen side last month derived from two wonderful, pacey and dipping crosses while both goals against Hibs on the opening day were also headers.

Not all their good work leads to clear cut chances though and despite a positive goal difference of two they’re comfortably outscored in average xG as it stands, with 1.21 per game for them and 1.6 averaged for their opponents. Sometimes the luck is just on your side though, e.g. at Ibrox last week when a good Motherwell performance was rewarded with a 1-1 draw despite Rangers having 24 shots on goal – just six were on target.

READ MORE: Should Celtic target Ercan Kara, the out of contract Rapid Vienna powerhouse?

The Celtic Way spoke to Motherwell TV commentator Lewis Irons about their start to the season and he asserts: "What’s impressed me most about Motherwell this season has been their ability to grind out results. Even die-hard Motherwell fans would admit some performances haven’t been all that great at points, yet results have been. I think of Livingston away, Dundee and Ross County at home and they were three performances that weren’t great but they found a way to dig in and get the win.

"There have been impressive ones too, against Aberdeen at Fir Park and Rangers at Ibrox where a point is always welcome. They’ve been good value even when not hitting their top level, they’re growing in confidence and the work-rate the players put in is what the team is founded on and gives the team the platform to get results. I’ve been impressed but I do think there’s more to come despite their league position and current points total. They’ve not hit their best yet but Celtic will be very aware they’re in for a difficult afternoon.”

Look out for – Callum Slattery

Signed from Southampton on a three-year deal this summer, Slattery is undertaking the task of replacing the recent heartbeat of Motherwell’s midfield - Alan Campbell – and is doing a good job so far. He went straight into the squad after signing on the morning of Motherwell’s league opener against Hibs, a thoroughly entertaining game that ended 3-2 to the Leith side despite Motherwell taking the lead twice.

Slattery is an all-action midfielder who breaks up play and drives his team on; he recovers the ball nearly 10 times a game but has the quality to match his tenacity, according to Lewis: “I’ve been really, really impressed. We didn’t know much about him but having watched every game this season he’s been a standout. He brings an intensity that a lot of fans would associate with Alan Campbell, and he does a similar job with his energy and drive in the middle of the park. He’s got quality on the ball as well, he’s confident at a young age (22), but always seems to make the right decisions.

Celtic Way: Slattery is already on the move to tackle his opponent just as the pass is madeSlattery is already on the move to tackle his opponent just as the pass is made

Celtic Way: And is there to dispossess his opponent in good timeAnd is there to dispossess his opponent in good time

"He’s disciplined, hard in the tackle and full of graft but is probably underrated on the ball and he can be at the heart of things. Against Celtic, Motherwell will probably endure large spells without the ball and that’s when people like Slattery really are crucial because he won’t give people like David Turnbull, Tom Rogic and Callum McGregor any time on the ball. I can see him being the man to stick on Turnbull. Him and Mark O’Hara are developing a good partnership in midfield and have been excellent but Slattery, particularly for me, is standing out for a number of reasons.”

You might’ve heard of – Kevin Van Veen

The forward was brought in over the summer from Scunthorpe United, where he played under Graham Alexander. Standing ovations against Queen of the South in the League cup and Hibs on the opening day of the season followed before a spell out of the starting XI while he worked on his fitness. He’s been deployed on the left of Motherwell’s front-three but will drift inside to link the play, an aspect of his game that’s proving fruitful given his strength and the fluidity with which he, Tony Watt and Kayne Woolery are playing.

A slight maverick, that kind of approach to playing football would usually be associated with luxury but there’s fire in the belly of this one. He’s a difficult striker to deal with and should Christopher Jullien have been fit then it would probably bring echoes of Lyndon Dykes and Nicke Kabamba to the fore, so a tough afternoon awaits Ralston and the centre-halves should Van Veen play. He’s admitted he likes to entertain while on the football pitch and that’s evident in the flair he’s portrayed with deft touches, shoulder drops and quick feet.

“He’s been brilliant to watch and that’s a big reason as to why the fans love him,” says Lewis. “He’s got incredible technique but matches it with a bit of tenacity up front, hangs on the fringes of a second yellow, teeters on the edge and doesn’t shy away, he’s had the hearts in the mouths of fans a few times. With the League Cup and the early games of the season, he was in and out and tired easily but has started the last few, his fitness levels are in a good place and he’s only 30 years old.

Celtic Way: Motherwell clear the ball to Van Veen after an Aberdeen attack breaks downMotherwell clear the ball to Van Veen after an Aberdeen attack breaks down

Celtic Way: Closed down by two Dons, he thinks of a way to manipulate the space as the ball bounces in the opposite directionClosed down by two Dons, he thinks of a way to manipulate the space as the ball bounces in the opposite direction

Celtic Way: Gallagher and Brown are taken totally out the game by his skillGallagher and Brown are taken totally out the game by his skill

"He’s not as prolific as Tony Watt but he’s capable of producing match-winning moments and is a fan favourite because of the way he plays. He’s got a trick, a moment of magic and gets the fans on their feet. He’s been referred to as the “Budget Bergkamp” as a Dutch number nine and he gets that for good reason because he’s got all the elements to be a star for Motherwell. Celtic will be wary of him but might still get a shock when they see what he’s capable of."

You’ve definitely heard of – Tony Watt

Needs no introduction. His career hasn’t been the most stable and he’s enjoyed/suffered spells in Belgium, Bulgaria, the English Championship and the Scottish Premiership but after signing for Motherwell 18 months ago he’s gone from strength to strength.

Four goals this season means he’s the club’s top scorer and a prolific finisher is needed after the departures of Devante Cole and Chris Long, who scored 33 between the over the last two seasons and Watt has already scored two winners and an equaliser this season earning his side half their points total. He’s got a 3.6 xG for the season so far which means he’s finishing above standard but he’s doing well at putting himself into the positions to have efforts on goal by peeling away from defenders and into space.

On top of his literal prowess in front of goal so far, there’s as much to be admired about his application and attitude which is helping him thrive in North Lanarkshire, according to Lewis: “I think, first and foremost, he’s happy. He seems very settled and has found a club and environment that values him. He’d be the first to admit strikers need to feel a wee bit of love and I think he’s feeling that. Crucially, Stephen Robinson, when he brought Watt in, found a way to get it into his head he needed to work harder. It’s a well-told story about how he was bouncing around clubs and wasn’t putting in the work rate he was capable of but now, he’s in great shape, his fitness levels are excellent and he works for 90 minutes. 

Celtic Way: Watt finds the pocket and demands the ball on the half-turnWatt finds the pocket and demands the ball on the half-turn

Celtic Way: After feedin his teammate, he drifts into the box past the ball-watching Saints defence and rifles a volley into the netAfter feedin his teammate, he drifts into the box past the ball-watching Saints defence and rifles a volley into the net

"He’s adding goals to that, so he’s at a great base level where his quality on the ball is even better because he’s fitter. It seems a perfect combination of everything coming together for him, the fans love him, he loves the club and as a result, he’s one of the most in-form strikers in the league. If you’ve got a good striker, like Louis Moult recently, it can be invaluable for a club like Motherwell and he, Van Veen and Kayne Woolery are complementing each other really well. It’s a bit of a perfect storm for him."