AS if overseeing arguably the worst result in Motherwell’s history wasn’t enough to deal with, Stuart McCall is already bracing himself for the collateral damage which last Saturday’s shock Scottish Cup loss to Albion Rovers could cause.
McCall says he wanted to “stay in a darkened room” this week as he tried to come to terms with what he regards as the lowest point of his football career.
But the Motherwell manager must instead emerge into the Friday night lights at Fir Park where his team face the ultimate test of their resilience with the visit of a Celtic side coming off the back of their sizzling 7-0 win at Hearts.
Facing this evening’s Premiership assignment, however, is of less concern to McCall than are the financial consequences of the Scottish Cup exit. Having seen his stated aims of extended runs in both domestic cup competitions this season extinguished, McCall knows it may affect the club’s January transfer window business.
The prospect of strengthening his squad has clearly diminished, while Motherwell may now be more susceptible to any bids for assets such as highly-rated central defender Shaun Hutchinson.
“There is a fear now attached to what might happen in January,” admitted McCall. “It’s not just about going out of the cup, there are financial implications and I know that.
“We have two boys on loan in Lionel Ainsworth and Henri Anier and I don’t know what will happen with them now.
“My hand might be forced, although I don’t know if that’s the case because this has not been the week to discuss that. But it would be a natural thought that going out of the cup will have an effect on the budget moving forward and I’ll speak to the board about it next week.
“This has been as hard a week as I’ve had. As proud and as happy as I was at Hampden in 2011 when we reached the club’s first Scottish Cup final for 20 years, the emotion of it doesn’t come anywhere near the low I felt last weekend.
“My wife put it into perspective for me when she reminded me of the tragedy that happened in Glasgow last Friday night. I didn’t die, none of my family died.
“In football you get the chance to go on. But I had been fortunate in my career that I hadn’t been on the end of a real upset. I suppose there is a first time for everything.
“I just wanted to stay in a dark room. But we had a Youth Cup game on the Sunday and an under-20 game on the Tuesday. I didn’t want to go, but you have to go out and you have to face people. Football won’t stop.”
McCall, who rejected the opportunity to leave Fir Park in the summer and take the Sheffield United job, has been subjected to some grumbling discontent from Motherwell supporters in the aftermath of the calamity against their fourth-tier Lanarkshire rivals.
It seems harsh when weighed against the third and second-placed finishes in the league McCall has masterminded in his two previous full seasons in the job. He accepts any criticism, albeit he tries to shut himself off from it.
“I learned from Neil Warnock when I was his assistant at Sheffield United,” he said. “There was a radio phone-in programme in Sheffield every night called ‘Praise and Grumble’ and he’d come in every morning and be down because he had heard someone having a go at him. I thought to myself that I didn’t want to go down that route. So I don’t listen to phone-ins or do social networks and people know me well enough not to tell me what’s being said about me.
“But any criticism I’ve had this week has been merited, because I said at the start of the season we wanted to improve on our cup performances and we obviously haven’t done that.
“It’s nice when you get plaudits, which we’ve had plenty of since I’ve been here. When things go wrong, you’ve got to stand up and take the criticism.
“Over the past week, I’ve had some really nice calls from ex-managers and team-mates, telling me to keep my chin up. One or two have asked if I regret turning down the Sheffield United job but I would say ‘No’. Definitely not.
“We’ve had highs and lows all season and now is not the time to be feeling sorry for ourselves. It’s about getting our chins up, sticking our chests out and giving it a real go.”
Currently third in the Scottish Premiership table, Motherwell still have the opportunity to give the rest of their season a meaningful edge as they try to qualify for Europe once more.
“You change your targets as the season goes on,” added McCall. “When I looked at Hibs and Aberdeen strengthening, the quality Dundee United have, then a realistic target at the start of the season was top six.
“But we would like to target a European place again, although that’s only for the top three in the league now. So we will be striving to finish in the top three.”
McCall welcomed Lionel Ainsworth, Iain Vigurs and Simon Ramsden back to training this week and says he will “gamble” on the fitness of a couple of them as he tries to plot what will widely be regarded as a most unlikely win over Celtic.
“It took me until Tuesday until I watched the Celtic game against Hearts on DVD and you couldn’t be anything other than impressed,” said McCall. “They were terrific, probably the best they’ve played all season.
“But we managed to beat them here at Fir Park twice last season. They will still be hurting at that. Neil Lennon will want to come here and win. They’ll be as strong as they can be.
“Outwith our dressing room, no-one will give us a chance of doing anything in this game. The atmosphere will make it a better game for us.”