MUCH of the pre-match chatter ahead of yesterday's meeting between Motherwell and Inverness Caledonian Thistle revolved around the righteous return of James McFadden to the Lanarkshire side's ranks.
However, on the basis of his former club's efforts in their 3-0 triumph, especially during a rampant second half showing, you wonder if the former Fir Park king would even get a game.
The 29-year-old Scotland internationalist, who is back training with his old side after being released by Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill, gained hero status among the club's support as a youngster who terrorised defences with trickery, guile, confidence and, at times, arrogance. In many ways, this current crop are a side carved in his image.
During yesterday's victory, which carried Stuart McCall's men into second place in the SPL, the frontline of Henrik Ojamaa, Michael Higdon and debutant Kallum Higginbotham – along with the pace and artistry of Chris Humphrey and Nicky Law – meant Motherwell were simply unplayable at times.
"I thought we always carried a threat, the difference was just clinical finishing," said McCall, who took pleasure in drawing the eyes of the assembled press pack to his side's lofty position in the SPL table as it flashed across a nearby TV screen. "We're not only winning games, but we like to think we are entertaining, and scoring goals to boot. It was a good day."
With captain Keith Lasley missing after seeing red at Rugby Park last week, it allowed on-loan Huddersfield Town frontman Higginbotham to join the Motherwell attack just behind the front pairing of Higdon and Ojamaa, filling the void left by Jamie Murphy's departure to Sheffield United. This worked to devastating effect as he created space for those around him to continue Caley's dismal run this term against McCall's side – the Highlanders have lost all three encounters scoring only two goals while letting in 12.
"We were second best," admitted Terry Butcher, the Inverness manager. "There's not many times that has happened this season, unfortunately it's always been against Motherwell. We'll just keep going. There's enough ability, belief and skill in the team for us to have great hope, but it was disappointing today."
The cloud of trepidation which followed them down the A9 looked to have been lifted on 27 minutes as Andrew Shinnie netted from close range after Darren Randolph parried a wicked effort from Aaron Dorran, but the effort was ruled offside. For all their hussling and harrying after that, though, Caley failed to give their hosts such a scare again.
Considering the apex of the Motherwell attack revolves around the burly figure of Higdon, who isn't exactly known for his athletic prowess, it was ironically the pace and aggressive nature of the hosts' play that proved to be fruitful, with the 29-year-old Liverpudlian more than happy to reap the rewards.
His first came on 30 minutes when Ojamaa scampered into the box, only for his shot to trundle into the path of the Englishman at the back post for the easiest of finishes.
But it wasn't until after the break that Motherwell put the game beyond Caley. A fervent start was rewarded on 52 minutes, with Ojamaa again involved as the Estonian's blocked shot bounced across the six-yard line, with Law keeping his composure after an initial fresh-air swipe to loft the ball over Ryan Esson.
The third arrived four minutes later thanks to a whipped Stevie Hammell free-kick via the head of Stuart Carswell, which allowed Higdon to rifle a fierce volley into the net, taking his tally for the season to 18 goals.
It is the prolific form of Higdon that has been the main thrust of Motherwell's surge back to prominence in the SPL, with the striker netting five times in his last three appearances. The next opportunity for him will be against Dundee United at Fir Park on Tuesday, a game that will present the chance for McCall's men to go five points clear in second place.
The question remains, however, if they will be joined by a certain ex-Evertonian.
"Listen, we've just won 3-0, we're second top of the league," added McCall, keen not to encourage such speculation. "James has been in training with us like he was at the beginning of the season. There's nothing more to say from my part at the moment."
The second coming