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St Johnstone 3 Motherwell 0: Comeback of biblical proportions inspires hosts to seize revenge

When Lazarus first re-appeared on the scene, we can only wonder if he was told, as part of the deal, that his name would be tossed about in clichéd introductions for football reports a few years down the line.

Motherwell's Iain Vigurs, left, and John Sutton, right, try to prevent Gary McDonald from winning the ball. Picture: SNS
Motherwell's Iain Vigurs, left, and John Sutton, right, try to prevent Gary McDonald from winning the ball. Picture: SNS

Apparently it was in the small print of the contract.

Last night in Perth it was Steven MacLean who became the latest in a long line of players to assume biblical proportions with a stirring comeback of his own.

Sidelined with a nasty knee injury for the past four months, the St Johnstone striker was expected to be out for a couple more weeks but, to the slack-jawed surprise of a few observers, here he was, trotting out to start this encounter. The seemingly miraculous recovery took just over 30 minutes to manifest itself.

A brace of first-half goals from the returning MacLean gave St Johnstone a thumping and thoroughly deserved triumph and avenged the 4-0 trouncing Motherwell doled out on New Year's Day. The risk to throw him back in was rewarded.

"Steven has been badgering me for a few days to put him back in," said Tommy Wright, the St Johnstone manager. "It was not a risk medically, his knee is fine now, but maybe a risk due to the fact that he's not even played an under-20 game.

"You can see what he brings. He's bubbly, he gets about the pitch, he makes things happen, he encourages people, he's a leader and I thought it was a risk worth taking. He gave us that bit of a spark and lift after the defeat last Saturday and it proved to be good decision to play him. We dominated tonight and it could have been more."

MacLean was one of four changes to the St Johnstone line up with Gary Miller, Lee Croft and James Dunne also being drafted in. Motherwell, meanwhile, made a couple of tweaks with Craig Reid and Henri Anier being scribbled down on the team-sheet in place of Lionel Ainsworth and James McFadden.

Anier served notice of his intentions by cutting in from the right and zipping a left-footed effort past the post barely five minutes in. A minute later, McLean made an even bigger statement.

From the kind of far off distance that tends to come with the assistance of a rocket launcher, Stevie May unleashed a raking, 35-yard free kick which bounced right in front of the sprawling Gunnar Nielsen. The Motherwell keeper could only paw the ball back into the line of the lurking McLean who gleefully stroked home the opportunity before disappearing into the dugout to have a celebratory cuddle with Fearghal Kerin, the St Johnstone physio who has aided his recovery. It was not clear whether Kerin needed a dose of smelling salts to bring himself round after being mobbed by a band of sweaty blokes.

Motherwell were in need of some healing hands themselves after that early dunt and Iain Vigurs almost soothed the wound with a sizzling strike from 25 yards which the diving Alan Mannus palmed round his left-hand post.

Despite these occasional forays, it was the hosts who had the game by the scruff of the neck and they tightened their grip on 34 minutes with a neatly engineered goal. James Dunne found Brian Easton in acres of space on the left and his inviting cross was headed in by MacLean.

Out of the blue, the beleaguered visitors almost nabbed one back on the stroke of half-time but Stephen McManus, with the goal at his mercy from four yards at the back post, somehow managed to conjure an angle of attack that only defenders could muster and proded it wide of the far post with a waft of the outside of his left boot. It summed up Motherwell's night thus far: dire. It would not improve.

McFadden and Ainsworth were stripped and thrust into action in an attempt to spark a second-half salvage operation but a sprightly St Johnstone set about crushing any hopes of a recovery. On 52 minutes, Lee Croft's rasping drive was beaten away by Nielsen before the Motherwell keeper thwarted May.

Chris Iwelumo, brought on to replace MacLean, then scuffed a glorious chance wide from six yards after being set up by a terrific, jinking run from David Wotherspoon. Miller showed him how to do it on 87 minutes though, charging unhindered some 50 yards into the box before blasting a finish high into the net.

"Apart from two players, Craig Reid and Shaun Hutchison, nobody else got pass marks," said Stuart McCall, the Motherwell manager.

"We've amassed a lot of points so far and we don't want to throw it away now. It's time to stand up and be counted and come out fighting again."

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