'We need to dominate St Mirren from the start' - Motherwell legend Willie Pettigrew believes playing with quick tempo from outset is key to keeping top six hopes alive

Willie Pettigrew served Motherwell with distinction as a player between 1972 and 1979Willie Pettigrew served Motherwell with distinction as a player between 1972 and 1979
Willie Pettigrew served Motherwell with distinction as a player between 1972 and 1979
Motherwell legend Willie Pettigrew reckons the struggling Steelmen must revert back to the rip roaring display they produced in a 2-0 home win over Hearts last November to keep their Scottish Premiership top six dream alive.

After failing to win in 11 league games in 2022, ’Well are eighth – but just a point behind sixth placed Livingston – ahead of their final two pre-split fixtures against St Mirren at home on Saturday, April 2 and Livi away on Saturday, April 9.

Pettigrew, 68, who scored 102 goals in 206 matches for ’Well between 1972 and 1979, thinks that the success over the Jambos last autumn – thanks to goals in each half by Connor Shields and Ricki Lamie – can be replicated if under fire boss Graham Alexander adopts a similar approach against the Buddies.

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“Getting into the top six is going to be difficult,” Pettigrew told GlasgowWorld Sport. “St Mirren are just starting to pick up and Livingston will be tough.

"With the number of teams in that area of the table, just one or two points behind the top six, Motherwell have got to win one of the two games. Two draws will not get them anywhere.

"It really all comes down to the St Mirren game. If he (Alexander) goes into that game the same way he went into the Hearts game at Fir Park when we beat them 2-0 we’ll be fine.

"They hit Hearts from the very start and until then I was worried; I just didn’t see where Alexander was going with his team.

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"But they hammered Hearts 2-0 as they were on the front foot from the start. I just think at times Alexander seems to be trying to play his way into the game and then hope to score later on but it’s not happening for him.

"If they start on the back foot then I’m afraid St Mirren will get on top, because they’ve got some quality players that can definitely do them a turn, guys that left Motherwell to go there like Richard Tait and Charles Dunne.

"We’re struggling. There just seems to be no spark about the team.”

When asked if January’s departure of top scorer Tony Watt to Dundee United has had an adverse effect on ’Well, Pettigrew answers decisively.

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He said: “I think Tony Watt leaving gives them an excuse. He scored eight or 10 goals for Motherwell and they weren’t all in the league.

“So somebody else must have been scoring. They had to let Watt go because I knew when he signed up that he wasn’t going to stay any longer than two years because that’s just his style.

"Moving on, they should have had somebody to fill in for him. I don’t know whether they thought Kevin van Veen would step up to the mark but he hasn’t really.

"Tony Watt had a purple patch. He was probably the link up between the midfield and the forwards and that’s what they’re missing.

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"The creativity in the middle of the park is non existent at the moment.

"They sold David Turnbull and Allan Campbell, Liam Polworth and Richard Tait went away as well, Liam Donnelly was injured for a long spell and he’s come back in.

"But they’re missing that spark in the middle of the park. It’s just so obvious.

"What’s happening now is they’re actually bypassing the middle of the park and looking for the boy Woolery to be running up and down the line. But he doesn’t even start all the time.

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"There’s too much choice. There are so many players sitting on the bench and they’re just not getting game time.

"In my day if you weren’t playing you didn’t want to sit on the bench.”

Despite ’Well’s poor form, Pettigrew said he didn’t think the Fir Parkers were in danger of being dragged into a relegation battle. They currently lead bottom two St Johnstone and Dundee by nine and 13 points respectively.

He added: “Motherwell draw a lot of games and apart from the Old Firm, there’s nobody really put a lot of goals past them.

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"I don’t see Motherwell losing games if they were in the bottom six. I can't see St Johnstone or Dundee catching them, I think they’re safe enough.

"But that’s not good enough. Alexander didn’t build the squad he’s got to play bottom six did he?

"He brought all these guys in and there’s a mass of people there.

"There must be 30 players there and what Alexander does is he rotates them, which is fine and good. But if they’re not getting a spell in the team I don’t think it works that way.

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"Player movement has already started with Mark O’Hara signing a pre-contract with St Mirren.

"I don’t know how many minutes some of the players have played but some of them are getting money for nothing.

"I don’t know the stats but I’m sure there’a a lot of them sitting there who haven’t started games which is not good for them either, it’s not fair for them.

"You bring people up here to play football and they’re not getting game time but they’re getting paid. It’s maybe a year or two out of their career.”

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Pettigrew, who also played for Dundee United, Hearts, Morton and Hamilton Accies later in his club career, also won five Scotland caps, scoring two goals.

He was the Scottish Premier Division’s top scorer in the 1975-76 season aged 22 and was inducted into the Motherwell FC Hall of Fame in 2019.

These days, he attends home matches at Fir Park to watch ’Well and also works at Asda Hamilton, doing two night shifts a week.

"I used to go to away games with my son,” he added. “But I just go to home games now and it’s been pretty disappointing.

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"I couldn’t believe it when the boy Mugabi got sent off after a minute in the Hibs game (a 2-1 Scottish Cup quarter-final defeat earlier this month).

"That threw the manager’s plans up in the air. They played quite well after that but the pressure was off.

"If they don’t start the game against St Mirren right then their tea’s out!”

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