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Motherwell 4 Hearts 1: McCall's crew so solid

WHO needs a Plan B when the first option more than suffices?

James McFadden celebrates in style after setting the seal on Motherwell's win over Hearts with the fourth goal		   Photograph: SNS
James McFadden celebrates in style after setting the seal on Motherwell's win over Hearts with the fourth goal Photograph: SNS

Despite not having enough players available to fill a full bench, Motherwell's starting XI still had more than enough about them to trample over the top of a Hearts team who looked out of their depth throughout this mauling.

There was no Henri Anier, Paul Lawson, Stevie Hammell, Simon Ramsden, Adam Cummins, Fraser Kerr and for the most of this game no Zaine Francis-Angol, who limped off after 34 minutes, with a baby-faced bench making up the rest of the crew.

Yet those able-bodied few who did feature more than made up a collective which shone brightly in the wake of two dark defeats. Losses and sub-standard performances, especially by Stuart McCall's high standards, had caused concern that their ambitions to finish second in the SPFL Premiership looked beyond them.

That myth was dispelled with professionalism and precision yesterday as they stayed within four points of second-placed Aberdeen with a game in hand.

This victory, their 16th of the campaign, was a procession from start to finish at Fir Park, with Callum Paterson's goal for Hearts providing only a brief interruption for five minutes before the hosts were allowed to carry on their march to another three points through James McFadden's header. It was to prove a memorable afternoon for the former Scotland international, who after scoring one and setting up three was handed the captain's armband for the first time in 11 years as Keith Lasley was replaced late on.

"Las is getting old," joked McFadden afterwards, who told of his response to McCall when he was asked if he wanted to come off himself seconds before he scored. "I was getting tired but I was enjoying it, so I just said 'I'm all right'. I'll play 90 minutes every week if I'm allowed."

Hearts were unchanged from the team beaten 2-0 by Celtic last weekend, while McCall handed new recruit Craig Reid his home debut at right-back.

Full debutant Jack Leitch, son of former Motherwell player and current academy director Scott, McFadden, Lionel Ainsworth and goalkeeper Lee Hollis were introduced following Wednesday's 3-0 defeat in Perth.

Iain Vigurs started things off, while Ainsworth, John Sutton and McFadden followed suit at will. Each goal impressive in its own right, Motherwell's desire to not give their visitors any encouragement was the key to their success

A deflected Ainsworth volley tipped over by Jamie MacDonald, a charged-down John Sutton shot and a blocked effort from Leitch all came and went before the opener came in 18 minutes.

A long punt was neatly brought down by McFadden, who then played a series of give-and-gos with former Ross County man Vigurs, allowing him to eventually prod it into the net just inside the box.

Ainsworth made it two 20 minutes later with a tremendous half volley high beyond MacDonald from a deep McFadden cross, his seventh goal of the season giving Motherwell a comfortable cushion.

"When Hearts came here last time they got the first goal and their fans got right behind them, so it was imperative we got the first goal today," said the Motherwell manager. "That was the plan."

The third after 65 minutes put the tin lid on it, again with McFadden at the heart of things. The former Everton man jinked past one defender before forcing a second into a hurried tackle which only nudged the ball through to John Sutton, who picked his spot to trundle the ball underneath MacDonald. McFadden would later grab one himself, a deft touch with the back of his head enough to divert Vigurs' cross into the net.

For Hearts, it now appears the Maroon Express is finally running out of steam. Apart from a Ryan Stevenson free-kick scuffing the post, substitute Dale Carrick striking the bar at 2-0 down and Paterson eventually heading home a Kevin McHattie corner to make it briefly 3-1, Hearts were chasing shadows and a lost cause, a sentiment shared by manager Gary Locke.

"We've been taking great strides in the last couple of months but today was a step back," said Locke, whose team are now 20 points adrift at the foot of the table.

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