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Motherwell 4 Partick Thistle 3: Sun shines on McCall's men

THE referee informed the anxiously waiting world at 1pm that this match had survived the weather.

It seems the news only reached the players at about 3.30pm. Unfortunately this was 30 minutes after they had taken the field of play. It is to their eventual credit that they conjured up a match of some intrigue, growing excitement and seven goals, two of them things of particular beauty. It may not have been their combined finest hour but it was an extraordinarily entertaining one.

The sober start was followed by goals being scored with an almost drunken exuberance with a late winner from Stephen McManus putting the appropriate full stop to a thrilling chapter of play preceded by an unnatural lull after a heavy, laborious effort by volunteers to ensure the match proceeded. After 36 minutes of a non-aggression pact only broken by minor skirmishes between Keith Lasley and Kallum Higginbotham genuine hostilities commenced with goals liberally sprinkling the subsequent hour.

The opener came when Higginbotham drove with purpose at a Motherwell defence that was so much in retreat one wondered if one had missed the the sound of a bugle. He cleverly fed Chris Erskine who turned Shaun Hutchinson and drove with power past Gunnar Nielsen.

Six minutes later Lasley then used his power to tangible effect by driving a shot that was deflected by Higginbotham over Paul Gallacher.

The best was yet to come and it was proof that football could be played on a pitch sodden and marked by the excesses of the weather.

James McFadden, who may have lost some pace but none of his sly football cunning, conjured up a piece of neat interplay with Lionel Ainsworth after 51 minutes that stretched for 40 yards and ended with the Scottish international placing the ball so much on a plate that Ainsworth seemed to hesitate, possibly looking for a knife and fork. He retained his sense of the moment, though, to place the ball past Gallacher.

Thistle were not to be demoralised, though they would have eventually to accept defeat. They fought back to take the lead. Ainsworth, energetic in attack, was passive in defence and allowed Aaron Taylor-Sinclair an unchecked run and brought him down to give Stephen Finnie an easy decision in awarding a penalty that Higginbotham smashed into the net.

The midfielder marked his return to his home ground by skipping past Steven Hammell and driving the ball past Nielsen to give Thistle the lead. It was the second marvellous goal in a match that had sparked to life as if on a fuse lit at 3.30.

The subsequent explosion rumbled deep into the match and fatally wounded any hopes Thistle had of leaving Lanarkshire with anything. John Sutton, with five minutes left, headed in powerfully from an excellent Ainsworth cross.

It was not yet over. In the 88th minute, Hammell launched a cross to the back post and McManus, who had returned after surgery, rose to head the winner.

"It is a good feeling to win a game like that,'' said the former Celtic captain who has recently undergone a clean-up operation on his ankle.

"That's our job you - get paid to look after yourself and be as fit as you can be," he said of his ability to come up at the end with a touch of vital energy.

The managers had differing views on a day that started with rain and ended in brightness for one of them. Thistle's Alan Archibald could not dispel the cloud hanging over his side who now face a fight to avoid the play-off place. ''We have to man up,'' he said of the battle lost and the need to eradicate naivety in defence.

Motherwell manager Stuart who indicated Lasley may have some damage to knee ligaments, was upbeat about the rest of the day, praising the resilience of his players. "I should never have doubted them," he said.

The struggle continues for Thistle. Motherwell still have Europe on a bright horizon.

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