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McCall ready to welcome Hearts . . . then bid them farewell

FORGET raising some poor sod from the dead to miserably prolong his downtrodden existence.

McCall is saddened by Hearts' likely relegation
McCall is saddened by Hearts' likely relegation

Feeding the thousands with a couple of battered cods and a loaf of Mother's Pride? Nah. Nipping out for a stroll out on the sea of Galilee and waving to astonished onlookers on the shore? Not bad, we'll give him that one.

But for Stuart McCall, it would take something far more spectacular for Hearts to remain in the SPFL Premiership this season. "It'd be the biggest miracle ever if they were to stay up," the Motherwell manager pronounced yesterday.

Hearts are 18 points adrift of Ross County, and with the Dingwall side at home to fellow strugglers Partick Thistle, today's encounter is ostensibly a must-win game for the Edinburgh side. That description, though, stretches the truth.

All the must-win games are already long lost. With that in mind, it was put to McCall that, with Rangers likely favourites to win the SPFL Championship next season and play-offs notoriously difficult to negotiate, this might be the last time in a while that Motherwell welcome Hearts.

"It probably will be, won't it?" he sighed. "Which is sad in itself, really. You always love going there and playing. It's always a great atmosphere and the fans have backed them incredibly. They're not gone yet, but barring a miracle they'll go down. For the sake of Scottish football, the quicker they get back up, the better."

McCall might be praying for a little divine intervention himself. The club are currently thrashing in the throes of an injury crisis as bad as has been seen at the club recently. Steven Hammell and Henri Anier have been added to list of the wounded after Tuesday's defeat by St Johnstone. Seven first-team players trained on Thursday and McCall admitted he was struggling to name a full array of substitutes this afternoon.

"We'll have five young kids on the bench, there's no doubt about that," he admitted. "But it's how it is. It's the worst injury crisis since JP [John Porteous, the club physio] has been at the club. The worst he can remember. It's not ideal, but we'll get on with it.

"We've been disappointed with our last two away games. Tough places to go, Dundee United and St Johnstone. We've had a slight dip in form, we just need to get back to a good level of performance."

Billy King, the Hearts winger, will hope to test whoever is selected to protect the Motherwell goal this afternoon. Lee Hollis is back in the squad, perhaps to displace the haplessly goofy Gunnar Nielsen. But King believes his side has the capacity to trouble either of them.

"We've made vast improvements since the start of the season," he said. "It's just down to experience. Playing at this level regularly, you can see the improvements already."

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