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Jan 2, 2013

January sales

In this week's North of the Border, Motherwell and Hearts are cashing in for different reasons.

BLADES OF GLORY

As we discussed last week, Motherwell appear to have done their sums and worked out that their ambitions can be best balanced with financial reality by selling one of the gang of their players whose contracts expire in the summer. This week we learned that one will be Jamie Murphy after the club accepted an offer from Sheffield United.

Murphy is 23 and can play anywhere across the front line, just behind it or on either wing. If, as expected, he leaves after the final fixture before the SPL winter break, the club get around £100,000 up front, rising to £250,000 with incentives.

Murphy can play at a higher level than League One, but the Blades are short-priced to win promotion from that league and have the support base to find traction in the second tier of English football. Also in their favour is the selling job that Stuart McCall, Motherwell manager and a former player and coach at United, was able to do on Murphy.

The English club were persuaded to move in January by the hottest streak in Murphy's career. He had nine in 13 before what is likely to be his last game for the club. His goals total has increased year on year since he broke into the team in season 2006-07, but never at this rate.

McCall predicts he will "get hee-haw of the money" from the sale of Murphy. However, he believes it will allow the club to hold on to Henrik Ojamaa, their Estonian striker being scouted by Lech Poznan of Poland, as well as the rest of those who will become free agents in the summer. Motherwell came from two down to draw 2-2 with Kilmarnock last weekend, with goals from Murphy and Ojamaa, highlighting the importance of the decisions this club will face during January.

CHINA CRISIS

At a different club, a player of the same age and in the same contractual situation is also talking terms on a January move. Hearts have agreed a fee with an unnamed Chinese club for Ryan McGowan, their versatile Australia international who has become a first-pick over the past two seasons.

McGowan is reported to be travelling to China to meet his suitors later this week, although all of this may yet flush out clubs in England who have been watching him this season. McGowan has played just about everywhere for Hearts, but is probably best as an attacking right-back.

Hearts are driven by a different imperative to Motherwell here. Despite the heroic efforts of their supporters in raising funds to cover an immediate tax debt, Hearts are still reporting a dire financial situation and will drive down costs both this month and in the summer.

McGowan was recruited from Australia in 2006, at a time when the Edinburgh club were strengthening their academy with youth signings from all over the world, alongside some serious investment in the first team. His progress - to a starting slot, full international honours and high market value - was meant to be the blueprint to make sense of this recruitment policy. Too many of their bets, mostly at far higher stakes than their investment in McGowan, did not pay off.

In the end their hand is forced by the player's contractual situation, but the fees raised by Motherwell and Hearts will make for an interesting comparison. Reports suggest that Hearts have agreed a £400,000 transfer with the Chinese club. That's 400% of the initial fee for Murphy. Both are 23, and while McGowan has two caps for Australia, Murphy has far greater experience in the SPL.

FIRST CLASS

It was a big December for Morton, who ended it with two wins that took them to the front of the race for a place in the SPL. First, a late goal gave them a 2-1 win at Partick Thistle, ending their 100% home record, then they won 4-2 against Dunfermline Athletic. Those two opponents were one and two in the division before that series began.

Morton have invested in their team this season, but they also have one of the biggest supports in the league, one of several clubs quoted by those in favour of greater expansion of the top division.

Any discussion of the offers coming in to Scottish clubs during January would be incomplete without looking at the talent in the First Division, a league that first blooded many of the Scottish players currently playing in the Premier League in England.

At Morton there are several contenders. They have two standouts who were cut from Old Firm clubs early in their career. Up front, Archie Campbell was nowhere near a game at Rangers, but after making the first team at Morton had 11 goals in 11 league games this season before injury froze him out. Morton's ability to win without him speaks to a depth that is unrivalled in their division and is perhaps the best reason to back them to make it this season.

In midfield, Michael Tidser was released by Celtic and arrived in Greenock via a spell in Sweden. Next to him is Fouad Bachirou, who did not progress beyond the reserve team of Paris Saint-Germain, but the gap between that club and the First Division is such that he is still a prominent talent in the second tier in Scotland. All three are in their early 20s and would be welcome additions to the SPL, should Morton maintain their ferocious momentum.

BAD BREAK

Back in the SPL, Aberdeen won 3-1 at Dundee last weekend, with a hat-trick by Niall McGinn, who has to be the pick-up of the season. The former Celtic forward has 14 for the season now but gives the team much more than those finishes alone.

However, there was a price to pay for the win. Andrew Considine, their centre-back, sustained a leg break that was operated on early in the New Year.

The 25-year-old defender is unlikely to play again this season and will be a miss for Craig Brown's team. His versatility provided options at centre-back and left-back and his absence will increase the influx of academy graduates in the first team squad at Pittodrie.

The fitness of Brown's starting centre-backs, Russell Anderson and Mark Reynolds, may now hold the key to the challenge Aberdeen make on the European places.

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