Don't make ploughed fields an excuse
Bowling greens and ploughed fields! Two of the most commonly used phrases to describe the condition of a football pitch and each at either end of surface quality spectrum.
The state of the playing surfaces in the Scottish Premier League is a hot topic at present and, while not wishing to join the significant criticism they have attracted, I thought it would be better to question whether a poor pitch can influence performances and results.
Initially, it is nonsense to suggest that there is no effect upon a player's display as a consequence of the surface being sub-standard. As, surely, if golfers can suffer from poorly prepared greens and cricketers from dodgy wickets then a footballer can suffer from playing on a "ploughed field"!
However, how much these factors affect the performance is another matter, suggesting that those who recognise the difficulties they may face and prepare accordingly will prevail.
Our semi-final victory against Hearts last week was a great example of this. We had the experience of playing at Fir Park a short time before the cup match and therefore were aware of the problems the pitch could pose.
This enabled us to play in a system, and at a tempo, which was best suited to Fir Park and ultimately helped us to victory. By playing in a manner that allowed us to get close to Hearts' players and pressure them on a difficult surface, we were able to gain possession in good areas of the pitch and try to create from there.
I must point out at this juncture that I actually agree with Motherwell manager Craig Brown in that there are other pitches in the SPL that are having tremendous difficulties at the moment, mainly because of the recent extreme weather, and that it is probably too easy to just highlight the shortcomings of the Fir Park surface.
From a personal point of view, I have never found the condition of the pitch a hugely negative factor. While obviously preferring the "bowling green" surfaces of early season, I have had enough experience of the more agricultural pitches throughout the leagues to be able to adapt to a pitch that may be cutting up, or bereft of grass.
In truth, the higher the level you play, the more spoiled you become in terms of what you are offered the opportunity to perform on and, indeed, usually one of the more problematic issues for players in the top flight is their choice of boots on modern pitches.
The decision to wear moulded or metal studs is made more complicated because a number of the new pitches, such as ours at St Mirren, tend to be very firm underneath, with a slick top surface. This is a great combination to allow the ball to be passed quickly but can mean the pitch feels too hard for studs but too slippery for moulded boots.
However, players will make their choice on what they believe will allow them to perform well and will adapt to the conditions modern surfaces present as much as they will to the problems poor pitches and inclement weather provide.
I have no doubt that all players, including myself, will have a moan and complaint about a park that is below the standards we expect and at times blame it for a disappointing display. However, while a rutted pitch is always a factor, it should never be an excuse!