McManus eager to banish the worst feeling of his career
MOTHERWELL defender Stephen McManus, at 34 years of age and with over 350 senior appearances under his belt, felt that he had experienced every emotion that the game could throw at him.
Then, last Saturday, he attempted an ill-judged pass into the midfield at Ibrox with the scores locked level and the clock ticking into the dying moments of an energy-sapping Scottish Cup tie.
Seconds later, the ball was settling in the back of the net behind him, and with it went all of the effort the Steelmen had put into a week of meticulous preparation and 90 minutes of draining toil.
Motherwell’s dreams of cup glory slipped out of their grasp for yet another year, and the feeling in the pit of McManus’s stomach as those stark facts hit home is one he will not likely forget in a hurry.
In fact, the feeling of despair as he faced up to his culpability surpassed any of the lows he has encountered in his 14 years as a professional. “For me, that’s the worst I’ve ever felt after a game,” McManus said. “At 34 you think you’ve seen and felt pretty much everything but I was devastated on Saturday and Sunday. 100 per cent that was the worst I’ve felt, there was no doubt.
”I thought we played really well all the way through the game and thoroughly deserved to be in the lead. When you get so close, after playing so well, not just me individually but collectively as a group, for the players, the fans, the management staff, you’re gutted.
“I couldn’t sleep on Saturday and when I did wake up on Sunday I was hoping it was going to be the 85th minute of the game but it wasn’t.”
Indeed, football can move in mysterious ways. McManus’s first shot at redemption comes against the same opponents when Motherwell take on Rangers at lunchtime today.
He is relying on the mental strength he has built up over his long career to see him through. “The big thing for me was I wanted to get back into training on Monday,” he said.
“I don’t train normally on a Monday just to give myself an extra day for my body to recover, but I wanted to get back onto the pitch to try to eradicate it. I’ve played in a lot of games now for Motherwell, I can’t remember making a mistake like that before. I’ve got to this stage in my career by being mentally strong and doing what I need to do to perform the next week on the Saturday. There were so many positives for us to take throughout the game and that’s what we’re trying to focus on.”
Rangers may look to target McManus early on in Saturday’s game to test his confidence following last week’s huge disappointment. But the defender sees areas where the home side can exploit their visitors today, with preparations just as thorough as for last week’s cup game.
“Every team has strengths and weaknesses,” he said. “Rangers are the same.
“We will sit down and analyse it with the manager and coaching staff in video sessions. That’s how the game has evolved. I can’t remember doing too many of them with Martin O’Neill. It was a case of get the ball to Henrik!”
McManus, perhaps unsurprisingly given the way last week’s match unfolded, has pinpointed Kenny Miller as the main danger to his side today, and he claims he is a better player now at the age of 37 than he was 10 years ago when the pair played together at Celtic.
McManus is full of admiration for his old friend, and knows he will have his hands full again today.
“No question [he is better now], his all-round game has improved,” he said. “He can come short or go in behind.He is an intelligent player.
“If you are going beyond your mid-30s and still playing at that level then it is something. People underestimate that if they have not been involved in football at that level.
“He is a credit to himself in terms of how he has looked after himself.
“He is looking as fit and sharp as he has ever done and he is a big, big player for Rangers.
“You look at the importance of his goals. At 37, he is their main threat.”
Meanwhile, Motherwell have completed the loan signing of goalkeeper Richard Griffiths from Everton after back-up keeper Dean Brill left the club, while young striker Dylan Mackin has joined Alloa on a development loan.
At 34 you think you’ve seen and felt pretty much everything but I was devastated on Saturday and Sunday. We will sit down and analyse it . . .
SINKING FEELING: Stephen McManus rues his mistake against Rangers