But the Scotland assistant coach has since seen his team rise seven places in seven games as well as collecting his second monthly prize this season.
McGhee clinched the December award after a perfect month, but Motherwell then went six league games without victory as well as exiting the William Hill Scottish Cup against Inverness.
A spate of late goals cost Motherwell a total of six points, but McGhee has led his team to six wins in seven matches to take them to the verge of the top six, after Saturday’s 2-1 win triumph at Inverness moved them up to fourth.
As he collected the award
at Cameron House Hotel on Loch Lomond, the former Aberdeen boss cast his mind back to more stressful times.
“I think our form in terms of results in February was, in many clubs’ eyes, sackable,” the 58-year-old said. “We were losing games. So I don’t take anything for granted.
“You are as good as your last game. I don’t expect any dispensation because I’ve won the manager of the month. I need to win next month’s to be sure I’m not getting the sack again.
“We are all mortal, we all feel that. None of us think we are invincible. It’s a results-based industry.
“When you’re losing games you feel under pressure, regardless of who you are. It was no different for me, I knew we had to start winning.”
The most difficult time was after a 2-0 home defeat by Kilmarnock on 13 February, which saw Motherwell slip into the relegation play-off place ahead of a midweek trip to face bottom club Dundee United.
“I was absolutely concerned,” he said. “When we lost to Kilmarnock at home I thought, ‘Oh my god’.
“Because up to that point we had had a couple of difficult results, but we had played well enough. But in that game we were really poor.
“I knew at that point if we stayed playing like that we were in trouble, no doubt about it. We would be bottom by now had we played the way we did that day against Kilmarnock.
“But somehow we found another gear and upped it from there and maybe it was the Kilmarnock performance that galvanised it, because I was able to talk to the players about the reality of relegation.
“It isn’t just about the players, it’s about the staff. We have two physios – you don’t get two physios in the Championship, and you don’t have sports scientists and you don’t necessarily have goalkeeping coaches. It’s about people’s jobs, staying in the division, not just about players’ contracts.
“They all heard that and recognised that and they rolled their sleeves up and worked for everyone as a group.”
A 3-0 win at Tannadice proved the catalyst for a surge through the division. Results elsewhere could seal Motherwell’s top-six place tonight, leaving McGhee and his players to focus on a potential European spot, which will be on offer to the fourth-placed team if Celtic win the double. McGhee admits he would have dismissed anyone who raised the prospect of a European charge when he took over at Fir Park for a second time in October.
“I would have thought they were being ridiculous,” he said. “I have only ever thought about finishing above second bottom and the February proved me right because
we slipped back again. It’s a target now. Fourth would be a fantastic achievement.”
THE SCOTSMAN ON SOCIAL MEDIA