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Motherwell 4 Partick Thistle 3: McCall's men drive to the finish as the fast and the furious run out of gas

IT was Fir Park for thrills but this drama soaked in goals on a sodden pitch had the most predictable ending for those who have watched the SPFL Premiership unfold.

Motherwell's Keith Lasley receives treatment for an injured knee with 10 minutes played. Picture: SNS
Motherwell's Keith Lasley receives treatment for an injured knee with 10 minutes played. Picture: SNS

The collapse of Partick Thistle in the final minutes will cause pain to their support but no surprise. This was a match of twists and turns but it followed one well-worn storyline. This was Thistle, the re-run.

The 2013/2014 Partick Thistle entertain and occasionally entrance. They also have a diabolical alchemy in that they can turn winning positions into losing ones.

In contrast, Stuart McCall's side have now an almost traditional trait instilled by the manager since he arrived in 2010: they keep on keeping on. They also have a definitive way of playing. The cast may change but the roles remain the same. Stephen McManus plays Stephen Craigan, Lionel Ainsworth plays Chris Humphrey, John Sutton plays Michael Higdon, and Keith Lasley plays, well, Keith Lasley.

McCall insists that this blend of power and pace steps off the front foot, and he values persistence. Motherwell, then, were hardly out of the game with five minutes to go.

Thistle, in a piece of almost clichéd typecasting, were ahead 3-2 and had claims to fielding two of the best players on the pitch with the neat and industrious Stuart Bannigan and the effervescent Kallum Higginbotham, who scored twice - one a showstopper if not a matchwinner - before leaving the pitch to let his mates play down the clock.

Instead, Thistle lost two goals and the match in such a fashion that Alan Archibald, their manager, deserves counselling rather than consolation.

He has constructed a side who are brave in possession and play with a confidence, if not a ruthlessness, in going forward. They were rewarded with three goals on Saturday and if that tally is not enough to win a match then a productive inquest has to be held if a postmortem on their season is not conducted in May.

Archibald will be blamed for making three late substitutions - the removal of Higginbotham caused much post-match debate - but he was seeking to revitalise a side that suddenly seemed to be labouring on a heavy surface.

Indisputably, the manager was not to blame for the loss of the goals that turned the prospect of a glittering three points into the dust of woeful defeat.

Partick Thistle were not blinded by brilliance at the end or undone by trickery. James McFadden had intermittently supplied both in an impressive second-half performance for Motherwell but it was simple, straightforward football that damned the men from Maryhill.

The late equaliser was the result of Ainsworth being allowed to cross and Sutton heading in at the back post. The winner came when Stevie Hammell launched a free-kick from a different postcode and McManus rose to head home.

Teams that lose these types of goals lose matches, lose confidence and can lose their place in the division. Archibald called on his players to "man up" in the aftermath of a draining defeat and his rallying call was echoed by Paul Gallacher, his 34-year-old Scottish internationalist goalkeeper.

"We are quite a naive team," he said. "We want to go and play, and keep going and going fast and furious rather than killing the game, keeping possession and seeing the clock out. We want to play football and we leave ourselves exposed sometimes. We play in the right manner but we need to use our loaf a bit more and see games out better."

These are words of undoubted truth. They must, though, be heeded or they could serve as an obituary to Thistle's brief spell in the SPFL Premiership.

Motherwell, in contrast, have a future that should include a European place at the end of the season. McCall's team has flaws - and defended desperately at times - but these are overcome domestically by a fine spirit, a cohesion and some talented individuals. The manager will hope that Lasley's knee injury does not prove too serious, but he will be encouraged by a performance that was typical in its strength of purpose.

Ainsworth - who scored a brilliant goal, created the late equaliser and conceded a penalty - articulated in words what was obvious in action.

"There is a tremendous belief and spirit in our team," said the 26-year-old Englishman.

"We are playing with a lot of confidence and even when they went 3-2 in front we always felt there was a way back. There's a lot of strong characters in our dressing room and that really showed in the last 10 minutes."

This is the Motherwell DNA. Thistle have 12 games to show it exists in the body of their team.

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