ALTHOUGH Partick Thistle supporters may disagree, the sight of James McFadden rediscovering some vintage form at Firhill on Sunday was a heartening one for most observers.
McFadden’s man of the match display in Motherwell’s 5-1 victory, including a cutely lobbed goal, was a reminder of the talent which made him Scottish football’s poster boy for so long.
This season has seen the 30-year-old struggle to recapture the performance levels which lit up his initial short-term return to the Fir Park club at the end of last season and earned him a one-year contract with Stuart McCall’s side.
The once feverish talk of a potential Scotland recall for McFadden has diminished over the past few months but his contribution against Thistle, operating in a playmaking role behind the main striker, has re-ignited hopes he can return to his most effective form on a more consistent basis.
The former Everton and Birmingham City forward is now hoping to build on Sunday’s display when Motherwell pursue a fifth consecutive Premiership win at home to St Johnstone this afternoon.
“I enjoyed the game at Partick as much as any this season,” said McFadden. “It has not been easy for me recently but I have been in this position before and it is amazing how things can change so quickly in football. You just have to keep yourself right and make sure you are ready for it when you get the chance.
“Hopefully, the Partick game can be a springboard for me. Your confidence does take a knock when you are not playing and things are not going your way. Your confidence can get eroded, no matter how experienced you are.
“If you are playing with confidence, it’s easy. If not, you need to dig in and find a way to get it back. Sunday was a wee boost for me, so hopefully I can kick on and get back to the sort of level I know I can play at.
“I picked up what I thought was a back injury in pre-season, then it turned out I had pulled my hamstring. Since it was diagnosed and treated, it’s been better but I’ve not managed to get a real run of games yet.
“I have been training well and I have been desperate for a chance to play. Thankfully, I got it on Sunday and I’m now ready to push on and show people what I can do.
“The expectation levels around me here are different to when I was first at the club, but that is part of the game. Maybe people have better memories of me from my first spell here, but if you look back on it, there were times then when I had five or six terrible games and then one good game. I was inconsistent back then. If I can get a good run of games now, then I will be happy. I hope I’ve still got a good few years ahead of me.”
McFadden would prefer to retain the central position he occupied against Thistle but does not expect it to be handed to him on a regular basis.
“If you look back at our season so far, we’ve not really played that formation much,” he added. “Ideally, I would like to play there for the rest of the season but it is probably not going to happen. But if I get the chance there, I enjoy it and I have more of an impact on the game.”
McFadden’s previous starting appearance for Motherwell had been in the shock Scottish Cup exit against Albion Rovers in November. Since a 5-0 home thrashing by Celtic the following week, they have reeled off four straight league wins to reclaim second place in the table.
“I don’t think we could have got any lower than the way we felt after the Albion Rovers game,” added McFadden.
“But it has been a great reaction from the team. That is testament to the manager and the group we have here. The manager never let the heads go down and the players certainly didn’t either.
“It certainly is no surprise to me that we have managed to win four games in a row and hopefully we can keep it going.
“It would probably be a bigger achievement to finish second in the league this season than when we did it last time. We just need to keep the form going and keep the performance levels the way they are.
“Everyone has been speaking about Aberdeen and Dundee United in terms of who will finish second, and rightly so. They have both been terrific. But I am sure other teams round about them in the table, like Inverness and St Johnstone, will also have something to say about come the end of the season.”
Motherwell manager McCall has praised McFadden’s attitude during the period he was out of the team.
“I was delighted for him on Sunday because he’s worked really hard, not shirked anything or gone into a corner and felt sorry for himself,” said McCall. “He has knuckled down. I know he likes to play that role through the middle, where he was a success for Scotland, but with John Sutton and Henri Anier forming a good partnership for us this season, it’s hard to play James there.
“I just felt it was the right time to do it against Partick and thankfully it paid off.”