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Motherwell boss Graham Alexander happy with the firepower at his disposal

Graham Alexander expects more goals from the likes of Connor Shields (Andrew Milligan/PA)
Graham Alexander expects more goals from the likes of Connor Shields (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Graham Alexander is happy with the firepower at his disposal as Motherwell prepare to start their European campaign amid the likely absence of talismanic striker Kevin van Veen.

The Dutchman and former Hibernian defender Paul McGinn missed Saturday’s 1-0 friendly win over Partick Thistle with knocks and had not returned to training before Alexander met the media on Wednesday morning.

Although both will be assessed before Sligo Rovers visit Fir Park on Thursday in the first leg of the Europa Conference League second qualifying round, Alexander admitted it would be a “bonus” if they made the game.

Van Veen was a key player for Motherwell last season, especially after Tony Watt left for Dundee United in January, and Alexander has since allowed attackers Kaiyne Woolery, Jordan Roberts and Justin Amaluzor to move on.

“We have lost a couple of players but, not being disrespectful, we were comfortable with certain players moving on, because we felt we needed to trim the squad and redefine it a little bit,” he said.

“We have only brought three players in so far – Paul McGinn, Blair Spittal and Josh Morris – but these are proven performers.

“Blair Spittal and Josh Morris are proven attacking midfielders who can score goals. Josh has scored goals in the previous two times that I managed him and Blair Spittal had a good goalscoring season last season.

“It’s not a case of replacing like for like, different players and different attributes, but certainly proven goalscorers.

“We feel we have other players in the squad, people like Connor Shields, Joe Efford, Ross Tierney, Callum Slattery, Sean Goss, where we expect them to improve on their goalscoring from last season, and they have the ability to do that. So we have to give them the opportunities to prove that’s the case.

“I’m confident we have enough goalscoring threats in our squad to score the amount of goals that we did last season. If you took away penalties, we were the fourth-top goalscorers in the league.

“The improvements we feel we have to make are on the defensive side of it and not concede as many goals as we did. We have done a lot of work on that. I feel we have the players that can help us improve that aspect.

“I feel we have the players to win games now but we are always on the lookout to try and improve the squad.”

The Thistle game was one of only two friendlies Motherwell have had, the other being a training-ground game in Austria.

But Alexander is confident his side are as prepared as they can be to face a Sligo side who sit fifth in the SSE Airtricity League of Ireland table after 23 games and beat Bala Town on penalties in the first qualifying round last week.

“Certainly at the start of the season your freshness can be an advantage, or being in your stride can be an advantage,” Alexander said.

“What we have got to do is focus on how we prepare and not getting any excuses ready. We are ready to go into a game of football, we are physically ready and tactically ready. Mentally the players are ready for this challenge.

“Sligo are a good footballing team, they can be expansive, they have got the right players in the right positions to be a successful team.

“The harder the challenge for us, I think the better we perform. We are expecting a tough game but the biggest aim for us is to make sure they have a tough game.”