Quality is what has seen Motherwell establish themselves in third place in the Scottish Premier League this season, not quantity. When manager Stuart McCall opted for the former instead of the latter in the transfer market this season, most Motherwell fans seemed pleased with the decision. But at the same time they acknowledged the fact that injuries or suspensions could be highly detrimental to the small squad, but the first test of depth in the squad could be highly beneficial to one player.
Steven Saunders’ serious injury apart, Motherwell have been lucky to have an almost full squad most weeks this season. Motherwell were without Tim Clancy and Shaun Hutchinson through suspension and Stephen Craigan through injury. In the absence of Motherwell’s three established centre backs, it was a big day in the career of Jonathan Page.
Twenty two year old Page joined Motherwell in the summer of 2008 after being released by Portsmouth and made his debut as a substitute against Llanelli in the Europa League a year later. He spent the second half of the same season on loan at Stirling Albion, where he won the Second Division championship. This gave Page vital experience and he made his name known when he scored in a 3-0 victory over Aalesunds in the Europa League upon his return.
At that point, it seemed Page was going to be given more exposure to the first team, but instead it has been a frustrating time for the Englishman. He was given his first SPL start against Kilmarnock in August 2010, and performed admirably, keeping a clean sheet as Motherwell won 1-0. He would however have to wait a month for his next start, against Brechin City in the League Cup. He kept another clean sheet and scored both Motherwell’s goals in a 2-0 victory. Despite receiving a bottle of champagne from the sponsors for his efforts, Page then found himself back on the sidelines. An ideal opportunity to give him a run in the first team was an injury to Steven Hammell. Page replaced Hammell as a substitute and looked far from out of place. However in games which followed, then manager Craig Brown opted to reshuffle his defence and leave Page a substitute whilst Hammell recovered.
Page was given his debut by Jim Gannon, who was always keen to blood youngsters into the first team, however regimes which have followed have not shared this philosophy, to Page’s cost. A centre back by trade, he has only started there twice for Motherwell, as he has mainly been used as a full back or holding midfielder. The game against Aberdeen was a massive test for him, as he would have been a lot more comfortable playing alongside an experienced centre back, but with all of them unavailable, Page was the experienced centre back, with eighteen year old Adam Cummins partnering him.
This is where the reluctance to give youngsters a chance could have proven costly. Last season, after the league split Motherwell found themselves in the top six, with a cup final to look forward to. McCall prioritised the cup final and rightly so, by resting a number of players. This would have been an ideal time to give Page some first team action, but replacing the injured Hutchinson on the final day was as far as that went, despite his credible performances in the early part of the season.
He is out of the contract in the summer and at twenty two, he no longer stands to benefit from the rule that requires SPL sides to have two under twenty one players on the bench, which means, having failed to become a first team regular, his days at Fir Park may be numbered. However, he flourished alongside rookie Cummins, keeping another clean sheet, so it could go a long way to securing more first team action and perhaps even a new deal at Fir Park for Page. Given the frustration in his short career so far, I don’t think anyone would begrudge him that.