MOTHERWELL Scottish Cup hero Craig Paterson says it is vital the Fir Park club act quickly to avoid talent drifting away from the club.

Paterson was a defensive rock at the heart of the last Well team to win silverware back in 1991.

Now he is increasingly anxious as he watches a string of Steelmen stars wind down the final year of their deals.

The former defensive general is worried that the exit of Jamie Murphy to Sheffield United last week could signal the break up of a Motherwell side he believes is the best since he trod the Fir Park boards with immortals like Davie Cooper and Phil O'Donnell.

Paterson said: "I think it is vital that Stuart McCall and the Motherwell board start to get players tied up as soon as possible.

"With so many players out of contract it would hit the club very hard if they lost four or five of them at once.

"I think right now they have the cover to cope with Jamie Murphy moving on and from what I hear they do not need to sell anyone else.

"So I think the priority has to be to get the players the manager wants to keep to sign on the dotted line as quickly as possible.

"The secret of Motherwell's success in recent seasons has been their relative continuity and the way that Stuart McCall has been able to integrate one or two youngsters into the first team at a time.

"Stuart has also done really well with the players he has signed like Darren Randolph, Nicky Law, Henrik Ojamaa and Michael Higdon.

"But if he loses four or five first picks in the summer he will struggle."

Back in the summer of 1991 Paterson played a standout role at the heart of the Well backline that held firm against Dundee United to win one of the most memorable Scottish Cup Finals.

But just a few months later the no-nonsense stopper left after a wages dispute led to a tribunal rubber-stamping Paterson's move to Kilmarnock and signalled the break up of that great team.

Now he is worried that the past will repeat itself.

He said: "The Motherwell team I won the cup with started to dismantle when I left the club the season after and it does not take long for a side to break up.

"If you lose one of your stars leave and then another one goes, and the other out-of contract players don't see any investment, it does not encourage them to put pen to paper."

PATERSON added: "Motherwell have arguably been the most consistent club in the SPL outside Celtic, now that Rangers are out of the equation.

"As a result their players will have become more attractive to other sides given all the European experience they have picked up. So the club must move quickly."

But Paterson has no doubt that a bit of tactical tinkering by boss McCall can help Well to cope with Murph moving on to Sheffield United.

He said: "Motherwell have the options to absorb the loss of Murphy.

"For a start Ojamaa can play out left and Bob McHugh has been looking increasingly sharp off the bench and could be a good option to play alongside big Higdon up front.

"Then you have young lads like the midfielder Stuart Carswell coming through. But what is vital for the club is that they retain the right balance between experience and youth. When that goes, it can cause real problems.

"If Motherwell can sustain a challenge for European football it will be a huge boost to Stuart's hopes of both keeping the out-of-contract players he wants to keep and attracting others as he has a budget for a new wage here or there.

"As I said, the secret of Motherwell's relative success in recent seasons has been continuity and right now I think the threat to that is at its greatest for Stuart McCall."