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Finding best form behind leading man

THE second coming of James McFadden in Scottish football has been something of a slow burner, but it all started to gather momentum again on a cold December afternoon in Maryhill.

James McFadden is congratulated after scoring the third goal for Motherwell on Sunday. Picture: SNS
James McFadden is congratulated after scoring the third goal for Motherwell on Sunday. Picture: SNS

The 30-year-old, accommodated for once by Stuart McCall, the Motherwell manager, in his favoured central role behind lone striker Henri Anier, showed glimpses of his gallus, devilish best on Sunday as the Lanarkshire side scored five goals, and Partick Thistle conceded as many, for the first time this season.

The cheekiest of chips having given Berti Vogts' one-time "cheeky boy" his first league goal of the season, McFadden then struck the junction of post and crossbar with a flashing header, while his all-round poise and touch generally caused Alan Archibald's side no end of strife. Since 2013 was the year during which Kris Boyd make his unlikely return to international reckoning, those leaving Firhill on Sunday were pondering why 2014 shouldn't witness a second flowering of his fellow football exile, Faddy.

Keith Lasley, who benefited from an adroit McFadden assist to score his side's equaliser on Sunday, certainly would not rule out such a prospect. "Why not?" said Lasley. "He has struggled with a couple of wee injuries which have held him back. But class is permanent, isn't it?

"He shows that in training every day and we saw it against Thistle with his finishing. He scored a great goal and was unlucky not to get another one. And just his presence in the game for us - he has touches here and there that can sometimes make the difference. He showed that on Sunday and it certainly didn't come as a surprise to anyone in our dressing room."

As irresistible as McFadden's display was, it also provides additional complications for his manager. Accommodating him in this role, after all, necessitates compromise in other areas of the team, like leaving Anier or John Sutton on the bench, or placing extra strain on deeper lying midfielders Lasley and Iain Vigurs. Still, McCall has wrestled successfully enough with such tactical dilemmas to go into 2014 on the back of four straight wins, sitting second in the SPFL Premiership table, with a match with St Johnstone to come on New Year's Day.

There is more than one way to skin a cat, so the saying goes, and the Lanarkshire side have proved adept at winning matches in multiple ways. "We have managed to win games in different ways recently," said Lasley. "We've had to dig in at times, especially up at Aberdeen. Then against St Mirren and Thistle it has been good football that has won us the games. That's pleasing, because we have shown different facets to our game."

McCall is aware that McFadden would prefer to operate behind a central striker but would not commit to allowing his forward to play there in future matches. "How often we play that way remains to be seen," said the manager. "But we have played four different systems in the last four games and won them."

As it turned out, the catalyst for the upturn in the club's fortunes was the exchange of a few home truths in the wake of one woeful week in which the Fir Park club crashed out of the William Hill Scottish Cup to Lanarkshire rivals Albion Rovers, then lost tamely to Celtic in the Premiership on the Friday night.

"I wouldn't say there was an inquest as such, but we sat down and looked each other in the eye because we knew we were better than we had shown in that period," said Lasley. "We just want to use this little run we have had in the second half of the season. In saying that, though, the teams around us will be thinking exactly the same. St Johnstone had a great win themselves on Sunday."

Lasley himself ended with one goal and one assist, and not before time some might say. "I've been telling the kit man who helps out that I'm going to score, then again the next week and the next. I think he has been putting a few shillings on, so thankfully he might have got some money back. In fact, he's probably a millionaire now . . ."

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