Motherwell are looking for their third manager of the season after Steven Hammell lost his job in the wake of Saturday’s Scottish Cup exit.
Hammell left Stark’s Park without speaking to the media following his side’s 3-1 defeat by Raith Rovers in a sign that the end of his reign was nigh, and confirmation came before 8pm on Saturday night.
Chairman Jim McMahon described Hammell as “forever a colossus” in the club’s history but added: “Although this decision has been difficult, we feel it is necessary as we look towards the last third of the Premiership season.”
Development coach Stuart Kettlewell has taken charge ahead of Wednesday’s visit of St Mirren while McMahon and non-executive directors Andrew Wilson, Douglas Dickie and Tom Feely look for a permanent successor.
Chief executive Alan Burrows was at Stark’s Park on Saturday but he was not mentioned in the statement ahead of his move to Aberdeen later this month.
Hammell played 583 times for Motherwell, a post-war club record, and also made a major contribution off the park in a four-year spell as academy director during which the Lanarkshire outfit brought in about £5million in transfer income from selling young players.
The 40-year-old was catapulted into the manager’s office on July 29, two days before the league campaign started, after Europa Conference League defeat by Sligo Rovers proved the end of Graham Alexander’s time in charge.
Hammell won three of his first four matches – the same amount of league victories Alexander’s team had recorded in 2022 – and a 5-0 victory over Ross County on October 4 showcased the attacking football he was implementing.
However, his project was undermined by the team’s struggle to get over the line in tight games – they drew five times and lost 10 games by one-goal margins – and an ever-increasing anxiety around home matches.
Motherwell have not recorded three points at Fir Park since August 20 and threw away a two-goal lead against 10-man Kilmarnock before letting another lead slip against Ross County in two recent games against relegation rivals. A failure to win in the league since October 29 leaves them in 11th, level on points with bottom club Dundee United.
Hammell has also been undone by a mounting injury list which affected several players including two of his four August signings, Louis Moult and Rolando Aarons, whose loan spells were cut short after one start between them.
January offered the chance to supplement the squad but the two signings who made the biggest initial impact, Mikael Mandron and Shane Blaney, swiftly got injured and the team were arguably disrupted by attempts to integrate nine new arrivals as they fell to comfortable league defeats by St Johnstone and Aberdeen before the cup exit.
Motherwell have been in clear need of a tough-tackling midfielder and got one in Calum Butcher but the former Dundee United man made his first appearance in Kirkcaldy at centre-back alongside fellow debutant Dan Casey amid injuries to Blaney, Bevis Mugabi and Ricki Lamie.
Hammell made six alterations to his starting line-up for the fifth-round tie and three substitutions at half-time and the board decided to make their own change rather than allow him time to find the solution after the three worst performances of his reign came in a row.
The unease over their 38-year-old top-flight status comes on the back of recent financial results which showed an operating loss of just short of £1m last season. Saturday’s defeat means this season’s deficit will likely be greater.
The club still had more than £4m in the bank at the end of last season but that sum was supplemented by a Covid-disruption loan from the Scottish Government and the board have signalled the need to either raise more cash or cut costs beyond the summer of 2024.
Staff costs last season were £5.2m, more than 90 per cent of the club’s revenue, and Motherwell will now seek a manager who can quickly get a return on their investment in their playing squad.