STUART McCall declared his team’s 4-0 victory over St Johnstone as good a performance as he has witnessed in his three years as Motherwell manager.
McCall celebrated his third anniversary in the role on Monday and watched his team begin the new year in style with a fifth consecutive Scottish Premiership victory, which kept them second in the table.
John Sutton opened the scoring in the 21st minute when he headed home a cross from Iain Vigurs, who netted the second just after the break after Lionel Ainsworth’s shot had been saved. Ainsworth then struck from 20 yards before substitute James McFadden scored from further out to round off a perfect start to 2014 for McCall, whose side also hit the post through Stephen McManus, Ainsworth and Shaun Hutchinson.
McCall said: “I thought it was a fantastic performance. We keep reverting back to last season and the season before and the players we have lost, but I thought the second half was as good as we have been, on a par with anything. The football was
terrific and we have created some fantastic chances.”
Despite the heavy defeat, Saints contributed to an entertaining contest played in torrential rain at Fir Park and, like their hosts, hit the frame of the goal twice.
Motherwell’s victory might have been even more emphatic had Stephen McManus been awarded the early goal he claimed when his shot bounced down off the underside of the bar following Ainsworth’s corner.
The home fans celebrated but Alan Mannus grabbed the ball and referee John Beaton waved play on after assistant Tom Murphy kept his flag down.
Mannus soon rescued his side from another Ainsworth corner when he made a flying save from Shaun Hutchinson’s effort.
The breakthrough came in the 21st minute and it owed much to Vigurs’ delivery. There appeared little danger when he collected a pass from Steven Hammell midway inside the Saints half but he delivered a perfect cross and Sutton got in front of his man to glance a header home from six yards.
Saints responded strongly. David Wotherspoon had a shot blocked by Dan Twardzik, Edwards had a low cross cleared from the goalmouth and Stevie May forced a save. Motherwell came close to a second when Ainsworth burst through the away defence but Mannus saved the shot and Mackay then acrobatically blocked the rebound from Stuart Carswell. But Saints finished the half strongly and Hutchinson deflected Wotherspoon’s shot just over his crossbar before Scott Brown fired just over in his first start for Saints since joining from Bradford.
Few inside the ground would have expected the game to end 1-0 as they reflected on the first half and Motherwell took less than three minutes to add to the tally after the restart. The key contribution came from Ainsworth, whose flick took him away from Scobbie and he beat Frazer Wright before taking a shot. The angle was tight but with the pace on the ball and the conditions, Mannus could not hold and Vigurs forced the rebound home from six yards.
Motherwell were hungry for more. Hutchinson headed against the post from a Vigurs free-kick but Ainsworth netted in the 73rd minute when he burst away from Murray Davidson on the edge of the box and inside the far corner.
And it got worse for the Perth side when McFadden struck his second goal in succession in the 87th minute, five minutes after coming on.
Saints boss Tommy Wright was disappointed with his side’s performance in either box after they saw the game slip away.
Wright said: “It’s a strange game at times because it could have been 4-3 at half-time.”
Motherwell: Twardzik; Hammell, Ramsden, Hutchinson, McManus; Ainsworth, Vigurs, Lasley (Lawson, 84), Carswell; Anier (Moore, 76), Sutton (McFadden, 82). Subs not used: Nielsen, Cummins, McHugh, Francis-Angol.
Booked: S Hammell.
Goals: J Sutton, 22; I Vigurs, 49; L Ainsworth, 73; J McFadden, 87.
St Johnstone: Mannus; MacKay, Scobbie, Wright, Anderson; McDonald (Millar, 84), Wotherspoon (Hasselbaink, 59), Edwards, Davidson, Brown (Fallon, 68); May. Subs not used: Banks, Miller, Croft, Jahic.
Booked: M Davidson
Ref: J Beaton