KEITH Lasley is delighted Nadir Ciftci is leading the charge to take Motherwell into the top six of the Ladbrokes Premiership after chasing him all over the pitch on more than one occasion during his playing days when he faced the Turkish striker during his time with Dundee United.

Now the Motherwell assistant manager feels the on-loan Celtic player can be the catalyst to a finish in the top half of the league.

Ciftci bagged his first goal for the Steelmen in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Partick Thistle and Lasley is convinced it will spark a consistent run as the Fir Park side take on St Johnstone tonight.

Lasley said: “I knew the player and I chased him about Tannadice on a number of occasions without much success, so we all know what kind of player he is.

“We all know what strikers are like and hitting the back of the net will hopefully give him another lift.

“Nadir has not played a lot of football and he still has a little bit to go in terms of his fitness, but that will come with playing.

“We’re trying to get enough minutes out of him. The frustrating thing is that with the number of games we’ve had we’re not getting much training time, it’s just been about recovery. 

“After this midweek, the games calm down a little bit and we can get on the training pitch.

“Nadir supplied a great finish on Saturday and we know he has that in his locker. Hopefully that can kick him on in terms of goal-scoring. Curtis Main has come in too and made a good impact, so we feel there are goals in the team.

“If we keep having as much control as we did on Saturday, we feel the goals will come.”

While the only way is up for Lasley, he admits that stretching further away from bottom-placed Ross County is also high on Motherwell’s agenda.

“All the teams will say the same, it’s your first consideration,” admitted the former captain. 

“We want to look up but there is always that feeling that you want to put as much distance as you can between the bottom club and you. So it’s two-fold. We’re playing a team that’s around about us so we have to go and win if want to be in the top six.

“It’s so tight right now and it’s going to be that way right up until the split. We just want to be one of those teams that is in the fight. We are at the moment and we intend to do our best to get that sixth slot. Winning against St Johnstone will go a long way to helping us achieve that.”

Motherwell had Trevor Carson, Carl McHugh and Charles Dunne all sent off the last time the sides met when Saints won 4-1 at McDiarmid Park – although Dunne later had his red card rescinded.

Dunne said: “I’d rather not remember that game to be honest. My red card was proved to be the wrong decision but there’s no point dwelling on the past. If we win this game we can go back into the top six, so that’s the aim.”

As for the visitors to Fir Park tonight, St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright believes they have unearthed a defensive diamond.

Wright has seen Dundee youngster Jack Hendry clinch a million pound move to Celtic and Aberdeen prospect Scott McKenna generating interest from south of the border.

And the Northern Irishman is convinced that homegrown Perth centre-back Jason Kerr – who turns 21 today – is the real deal.

The Scotland Under-21 starlet impressed on his belated league debut for Saints in the 1-0 weekend defeat by Hearts and looks set to retain his place for tonight’s trip to Motherwell.

Wright has mapped out Kerr’s development plan carefully and earmarked him for a regular start after impressing on loan at Queen of the South.

“Jason has been excellent in the two games since he came into the team,” said Wright. “He now has to stay there, but from what we know of him he’s a player with a very bright future. 

“People have been talking about Jack Hendry and Scott McKenna and I think Jason is in that bracket. He can be every bit as good as them.”