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Motherwell 4 Hearts 1: Former Tartan hero close to being back in blue, or pink

THE Scotland set-up has been a colourful topic of conversation in the last few days, even if the majority of the chatter has revolved around the national team's garish new strip rather than those who will fill it.

Motherwell's Lionel Ainsworth, right, scores his side's second goal of the game at Fir Park. Picture: SNS
Motherwell's Lionel Ainsworth, right, scores his side's second goal of the game at Fir Park. Picture: SNS

Yet there is one man in particular who many around Fir Park believe could still look pretty in pink after another extraordinary performance on Saturday.

Three-and-a-half years have come and gone since James McFadden last pulled on the dark blue jersey of his country. That landmark moment came on September 7, 2010 when the then Birmingham midfielder was hooked at half-time by Craig Levein as a result of an ineffective 45 minutes against Liechtenstein at Hampden.

Given the nature of the 90 minutes he enjoyed against Hearts, however, it is not inconceivable that the man in claret and amber's purple patch could once again tread the international boards. McFadden was at his enigmatic best on Saturday as he almost single-handedly dismantled Hearts with the kind of display - full of guile and instinctive talent -that once made him the Tartan Army's No.1 poster boy.

The 30-year-old was allowed to puncture the Hearts defence almost at will with a series of kicks, flicks and tricks. Not that Gary Locke's team had much say in the matter. In what was arguably the best game of football he has played all season, McFadden set up three goals before deciding to bang one in himself. Firstly he controlled a high punt up the park with ease, before spinning on the spot, playing a series of interchanges with Iain Vigurs to allow his colleague through on goal for the opener.

He then scampered to the byeline to hook a seemingly lost ball to the unmarked Lionel Ainsworth at the back post to slam home the second. His third telling contribution came not long after the break as his jinking run caused panic in the Hearts defence with the ball eventually fed to John Sutton for an easy finish. A cute flick with the back of his head rounded off his masterclass.

"When Faddy is performing like that, he's a really good player," said Ainsworth, grateful of the supporting role McFadden played in the Rotherham United loanee's seventh of the season. "I watch him in training and I see him do things and think: 'Phew! I'll need to try that myself.'

"He's been brilliant for us and I just hope that he stays fit because we have a small squad and he is so important for us. As long as he's playing like he did today I'm sure something will happen with Scotland. He's just enjoying himself, you know, getting on the scoresheet and everything.

"He's got that hunger and that sharpness. For me, he should be in the Scotland squad all day long but he's got to keep it going."

Motherwell's victory on Saturday was impressive in its own right, but it was practically monumental given the bland fare which had been dished up in their previous two encounters where they lost 3-1 and 3-0 to Dundee United and St Johnstone respectively. Their passing and movement was purposeful and decisive, something which had been lost over the previous week. The importance of an on-song McFadden in a central role behind Sutton is the key dynamic in this system, in that he is able to link up with the Englishman as a second striker, while also being able to drop deeper to create space for others as defenders swarm around him in a state of fear and alarm. This was on show in Motherwell's opener as a couple of simple one-twos with Vigurs caused the visiting defence to lose their shape and discipline.

"We had a point to prove after those defeats," added Ainsworth. "Especially me because that performance against Dundee United was probably the worst of my career.

"I wasn't happy and I wanted to start against St Johnstone to make up for it but I wasn't selected so it was great to play and score and win today.

"We just carry on quietly, under the radar. We want that second spot but we're going about it in our own way, we're not hyping it. We're just trying to win every game we play in."

A similar ethos has been emanating from the Hearts camp for some time without much success. The line that the Edinburgh club's season is at an end has been trotted out ad nauseam pretty much every week since the season began, in a manner becoming as tedious and predictable as a Crossroads plot twist.

With 20 points separating the Tynecastle club from 11th-placed Ross County with only 30 left to play for, time is quickly running out for the minor miracle Locke and his players surely need to avoid the drop.

Yet Dale Carrick, the young Hearts forward who struck the bar on Saturday, is keeping the faith. "We're just trying to fight for every point now," he said. "Until it's mathematically impossible we will just keep going. It's all about taking it step by step."

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