STEPHEN McManus appreciates more than most that victories over Rangers when Ibrox is filled to capacity don’t come easily.
The former Celtic and Scotland captain appeared in eight Old Firm matches at the Govan ground, ending up on the winning side just twice. Those successes came in February 2006, when Maciej Zurawski scored the only goal of the game in Roy Keane’s debut in the fixture, and in December 2008 when a stunning strike by Scott McDonald claimed all three points for Celtic.
McManus is now reunited with McDonald in the Motherwell side battling to retain their top-flight status as they take on Rangers in the Premiership play-off final.
As he prepares for tonight’s first leg at Ibrox, the 32 year old is in no doubt about the qualities required to handle the atmosphere created by the Rangers support.
“You need some gonads, if you like, to deal with the situation,” said McManus with a smile. “You need to stay calm and ice cold.
“It’s a brilliant place to play. If you speak to anyone who has played at Ibrox in a game that means something, they will tell you the same.
You need some gonads, if you like, to deal with the situationStephen McManus
“When I came back up the road, I never expected to play in big games of this magnitude again. You need to enjoy them, because you don’t know when it’s going to be your last at a full house stadium. You want to play in the biggest atmospheres possible and these will hopefully be two great games.
“Ibrox is a tough place to go. You need to be hard to beat, first and foremost. You need to believe in yourselves when you are in possession.
“The Rangers fans have been through the wringer in the last few years, so they will be up for it on Thursday night. Everyone is going to be up for it.
“We know how severe and intense the game is going to be at Ibrox. I was speaking to Kris Boyd last week after their home game against Hibs in the semi-final and he said the atmosphere was like nothing he’d ever experienced before at Rangers. He said it was even better than the Champions League games.
“It’s going to be a good occasion for everyone. If you don’t win it, it’s going to be the lowest low of your career. If you win, it will be one of the highest highs. It’s a game which means something to Scottish football which everyone has been looking forward to.”
It is also a game which is dominating the landscape this week at the expense of what is normally the country’s showpiece occasion.
“You feel sorry for the Scottish Cup final this week,” observed McManus. “It has kind of been overshadowed a bit, no-one has really been talking about it.
“It should all be about the Inverness and Falkirk players this week. But these are probably the biggest play-off games there are ever going to be in Scotland, when you consider who was in the Championship and where we finished in the Premiership.
“It would be right up there with anything I’ve done in my career if I can help Motherwell win this tie. You work hard throughout your career to achieve things and earn a decent reputation in the game.
“I’ve been pretty fortunate enough to have a half decent reputation in the game, have a half decent CV and I certainly don’t want to have a relegation against my name. That’s a personal bit of pride.
“Listen, it could happen. But we certainly believe we’ve got a good squad and a good coaching staff. It will come down to who handles the occasion the best over the two games.”