Motherwell have kept consecutive clean sheets as they’ve picked up four points in their last two fixtures against St Mirren and Hibernian.

After conceding seven goals in their previous two fixtures against St Johnstone and Hamilton, the Steelemen have improved defensively, and drastically so.

Motherwell have defended resolutely - winning headers, blocking shots and anticipating danger - but they’ve also protected themselves when in possession.

Graham Alexander has encouraged his side to play short from goal kicks since his arrival to build possession from defence.

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This has been a trademark of Alexander’s Motherwell since his arrival alongside their determination to press high - this has also been tweaked recently.

They conceded 20 shots in the 3-0 defeat to St Johnstone as they persisted with trying to play out from the back but Alexander has altered this strategy in the last two games.

Liam Kelly has been an excellent signing for Motherwell. He’s a very good goalkeeper and his distribution is brilliant - undoubtedly one of his strengths and a prerequisite for modern goalkeepers.

The former Livingston goalkeeper has completed all 84 of his short passes this season. While a majority of these will be ‘safe’ passes it’s still impressive to have a 100% short pass accuracy.

Therefore, it’s understandable why Alexander has looked to utilise Kelly’s excellent distribution skills but there’s been a noticeable tactical tweak in recent weeks.

Against St Johnstone, Liam Kelly took 14 goal kicks, passing eight short (57%) and hitting six long (43%).

However, in the ‘Well’s next fixture against St Mirren he didn’t take any of his eight goal kicks short and it was even more noticeable against Hibernian.

In the crucial 2-0 victory, Kelly didn’t take any of his 13 goal kicks short and it appeared to be a clear instruction to go long before looking to dominant on second balls.

Motherwell’s combative midfield three of Allan Campbell, Barry Maguire and the impressive Robbie Crawford were excellent at winning these duels and it allowed Motherwell to gain territory higher up the pitch.

It’s noticeable that the two other games where Kelly never played short were in Alexander’s first game in charge against St Mirren and in defeat to Hamilton, where Brian Rice’s side implemented an extremely risky high press and forced Kelly to go long.

The catalyst for the tactical adjustment in Motherwell’s last two fixtures will have been significantly influenced by the lacklustre defeat to St Johnstone.

The Saints, successfully, implemented a high press which prevented Motherwell progressing the ball up the pitch and forced them to play back to their goalkeeper.

Their inability to beat the press effectively combined with the Steelmen’s commitment to build possession from defence was emphasised by Kelly receiving 22 passes.

This figure is significantly higher than his average received passes since joining Motherwell (10.6 per90) and was indicative of Motherwell’s struggles to get the ball to their forward players.

A majority of these actions were a direct result of playing short from goal kicks.

The Queens Park Rangers loanee would distribute the ball to one of his centre-backs, Ricki Lamie or Tyler Magloire, and with no alternative pass available, they’d be forced to drop the ball back to Kelly.

Of the 22 passes back to Kelly; Magloire had ten, Lamie eight, Liam Polworth two, Max Johnston two, Tony Watt one and Jake Carroll one.

The League Cup winners smothered the Steelmen and prevented Alexander’s side from influencing the game from an attacking perspective.

Motherwell’s xG was a ridiculously low 0.04 which is the second lowest in the Premiership all season - Hamilton recorded an xG of 0 in the 8-0 defeat to Rangers at Ibrox.

It was highlighted by the fact that Motherwell only managed five touches in the opposition box during this encounter.

That statistic shouldn’t be used as a catalyst to criticise Motherwell’s front three - why aren’t the front three influencing the game?

It’s impossible to impact the game as an attacking threat if you aren’t receiving the ball in dangerous areas and the opposition deserve credit for restricting that.

St Johnstone and Callum Davidson deserve immense praise for identifying how Motherwell play and executing a strategy to capitalise upon that.

Also, it’s imperative to highlight that Motherwell were decimated by injury for this fixture.

Alexander was without the service of two, arguably three, of his starting back four and the influential Allan Campbell was also unavailable.

There can be little doubt that the Perth side were buoyed when they received the team sheets and that, perhaps, encouraged them to be braver in their pressing tactics.

Conversely, while Alexander’s impressive fortitude would have ensured that Motherwell were confident of achieving a positive result, it can be disheartening to be without so many key players - psychology is hugely significant in football.

It will be hugely reassuring for any Motherwell supporter that Alexander identified the issues in the St Johnstone defeat and addressed them immediately.

Other managers would be too stubborn and committed to one style of play to the detriment of results.

Progressing the ball from defence is increasingly prevalent in modern football and there are benefits when executed perfectly - it’s aesthetically pleasing and effective.

Possessing the adaptability to change tactics depending on opponents or circumstances during games will be hugely beneficial to Motherwell moving forward.

It’s also important to stress that Alexander joined midseason during a congested schedule and the positive impact the former Scotland international’s had on performances, and results, is encouraging.

The 49 year-old will have the summer transfer window to make adjustments to his squad after assessing the current players.

After a full pre-season, where Alexander can dedicate more time to integrating his ideas, Motherwell supporters should be increasingly optimistic about what the future holds.

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