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Old dog, familiar tricks as Thistle are dismantled by 'confident' McFadden

SIX years to the day since his passing, fans of both sides remembered Phil O'Donnell yesterday, but the most eloquent tribute of all came from Motherwell's players.

Motherwell's Zaine Francis-Angol guides the ball past the flailing feet of Thistle's Gabriel Piccolo and Scott Fox
Motherwell's Zaine Francis-Angol guides the ball past the flailing feet of Thistle's Gabriel Piccolo and Scott Fox

Inspired by captain Keith Lasley, who was on the pitch that fateful day in December 2007, and a rampant James McFadden, the five goals they racked up here comprised both their biggest win of the season and Thistle's heaviest defeat.

Motherwell's fourth consecutive SPFL Premiership win consolidated their hold on second place, but you had to spare a thought for their hosts, who contributed plenty to events but are now fated to bring 2013 to a close without a single top-flight home win.

"It was a terrific tribute," said Lasley, in recognition of the applause that rang out in the 10th minute, marking O'Donnell's shirt number. "I would echo the sentiment of the fans and dedicate that win to him. He was a real club legend and is never out of our thoughts. It was a poignant moment. On social media you realise what an impact he had in the game, and not just Scottish football."

Stuart McCall had recalled Stephen McManus after injury for the suspended Shaun Hutchinson, but otherwise named the same side which won at Aberdeen, which meant John Sutton kicking his heels on the bench. McCall's opposite number, Alan Archibald, recalled Stephen O'Donnell for Jordan McMillan, who has been ill. Kris Doolan continued as the lone out-and-out striker, although the club remain in pursuit of January alternatives, possibly former Falkirk striker Farid El-Alagui.

Having said that, the way Thistle started this match you wondered what all the fuss was about. The game was only 10 minutes old when they produced a sublime team goal. Stuart Bannigan started it, Kallum Higginbotham spotted the run of James Craigen, and the midfielder's cut-back was perfect for Steven Lawless, who tucked a crisp finish into the bottom corner. Lawless almost made it two against his former club with a fine left-foot drive which on-loan goalkeeper Dan Twardzik pawed away from his top corner.

Whether it had anything to do with their fallen former captain or not, Motherwell drew inspiration from somewhere. Most of it came from McFadden, located in his favoured classic No.10 role behind Henri Anier. He may have lost some of the dynamism of old, but the guile which made him the darling of the Tartan Army was evident with the drop of the shoulder and instant pass which played in Lasley, who slid a composed finish into the bottom corner.

While Thistle began to betray their inefficiency in front of goal -Twardzik saved from Higginbotham, and O'Donnell opted to pass rather than shoot - there were no such problems at the other end. It was all too easy for Zaine Francis-Angol to latch on to a Steven Hammell pass and sweep off the flank before beating Scott Fox at his near post.

Before long, Anier made a nuisance of himself from a long ball, and McFadden was finding a cute chipped finish over Fox. For all that it was his first league goal of the season, but this was the kind of performance which suggested a Kris Boyd-like return to the international fold should not be entirely discounted. "I was delighted for him [McFadden] because it has not been through lack of effort," said McCall. "He makes the goal for Lasley and then you can see his old confidence come back. It is one performance but if he can build on that and keep that level up it augurs well for the future. He will certainly feel like an old man in the morning for all the ground that he covered."

McFadden became even more prominent as the game entered the second period, feasting on the spaces left by the hosts as they vainly chased the game. While he stung the palms of Fox at one end, Thistle substitute Ross Forbes did likewise to Twardzik at the other. But any chance the hosts had of salvaging anything disappeared when Lasley sniffed out a telegraphed Aaron Taylor-Sinclair pass, and coolly fed Lionel Ainsworth, the on-loan Rotherham winger finishing with a minimum of fuss.

The hosts were in self-destruct mode now and, after McFadden had struck the angle of post and bar with a glancing header, the fifth goal duly arrived. Mexican stopper Gabriel Piccolo misjudged a searching Iain Vigurs punt and only succeeded in presenting the ball to Sutton, who finished gleefully.

Thistle kept at it, but to no avail, and next up for them is the Glasgow derby with Celtic on New Year's Day. "It was embarrassing," a chastened Archibald admitted. "In the second half our performance was totally unacceptable. We went to have a go but left ourselves wide open."

An achievable New Year's resolution for Thistle might be to start finding a way to win matches at home.

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