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Festive games bring McCall nothing to fear but fear itself

THE festive period.

Lionel Ainsworth celebrates his goal with man-of-the-match John Sutton
Lionel Ainsworth celebrates his goal with man-of-the-match John Sutton

A terrifying run of fixtures that can strike fear into the hearts of nervous managers, leaving them tossing and turning in their sleep, wondering how they are going to cope with the prospect of four games in less than two weeks. Not Stuart McCall, though, whose Motherwell side yesterday continued their irresistible form by recording a fifth successive win.

This was another magnificent performance by the Fir Park side, who toyed with their opponents in the second half, flicking and jinking through midfield in mesmerising moving triangles. St Johnstone, who had looked so impressive defeating Dundee United at the weekend, could not cope, and were dragged right and left by the dizzying home attack.

John Sutton, who scored the first and was fresh after being rested on Sunday, was the perfect pivot for the creative players around him. He was named as the sponsors' man of the match. "Come on, are you kidding me on, is it Sutty's dad who's doing it?" was McCall's reaction to that news. The Motherwell manager pointed instead to Iain Vigurs - who seemed to be everywhere in midfield - and Lionel Ainsworth, who ran up and down the right and gave Tam Scobbie an afternoon he will want to forget.

Vigurs' goal - Motherwell's second - came from that outlet. Ainsworth darted down the right, knocked the ball around Scobbie and raced past him into the box. Alan Mannus could only palm the shot out to Vigurs, who finished cooly. "Scorer for Motherwell, John Sutton!" roared the PA announcer. The striker - who had been nowhere near the ball - started chuckling in the centre circle. "Naw, sorry, it was Iain Vigurs!" said the announcer, correcting himself as the crowd cheered.

Sutton had already scored his goal earlier in the game. Steven Hammell raced down the wing and looked like he had overrun the ball but just managed to slip it to Henri Anier, who shunted towards Vigurs. Hammell had continued his run and darted past, allowing the midfielder space to deliver a perfect cross to the near post where Sutton glanced in a header.

It had been goalless up to that point, despite the ball seeming to have crossed the line at one stage. Stephen McManus volleyed a Vigurs corner against the crossbar, and for all the world it looked like the ball had bounced over the line as it fell. The Motherwell players celebrated and starting jogging back to the half-way line, but the officials judged that it had not crossed and play was restarted with a goal kick.

For all of the hosts' dominance, St Johnstone were by no means bystanders. They created chances: at one point early in the second half, the ball bounced around in the home box and everyone seemed to have a swing at it. It fell eventually to Stevie May, whose shot was deflected up on to a post from close range. May then had another opportunity, swivelling and volleying over the bar. For the most part, though, the stocky forward cut a frustrated, isolated figure. "It was a strange game at times because it could have been 4-3 at half-time," said Tommy Wright, the St Johnstone manager. "But we didn't start the game well, which I think was key. We created enough chances in the first half to be level at half-time but we contributed to our own downfall. All the goals are poor from our point of view."

While true, it was also that case that Motherwell clicked into top gear and started tormenting their visitors. The irresistible Ainsworth kept dashing past Scobbie, swivelling in and out and past and creating several chances. He took one for himself, later. A Vigurs free kick was headed on to the post by Shaun Hutchinson, and it bounced out for Ainsworth to drill past Mannus.

The home side were having fun in the mud by now, running St Johnstone ragged as James McFadden and Craig Moore joined the party. The rain was lashing down; Vigurs slid into a tackle and left a 10-foot long scar on the turf. McCall stood dreekit and drenched on the touchline, still barking his orders. And there was just enough time for McFadden to get his goal, the forward finding himself in space outside the box and curling the ball into the bottom-left corner in what was a fitting flourish.

"It was a fantastic performance," said McCall. "The second half was as good as we've been. I'm really proud of it. If you can't enjoy it when you play like that, then you never will."

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