Motherwell take on Rangers this Saturday afternoon as they look to bounce back from last weekend’s Scottish Cup defeat.
And ‘Well boss Mark McGhee could be boosted by the recent signings of Elliott Frear and Russell Griffiths, who will both be available for selection tomorrow afternoon.
A late brace from Kenny Miller dragged the Ibrox side from behind to snatch a dramatic victory in Glasgow after Louis Moult had given the Steelmen a hard-earned lead with just 15 minutes remaining last weekend.
For many ‘Well fans, the arrival of the Gers to Lanarkshire tomorrow may appear to arrive at a good time, but for manager Mark McGhee, it is irrelevant who his side take on – he is just raring to go and get back in to league action.
Speaking to the press yesterday at Motorpoint’s Glasgow branch, the Fir Park gaffer looked ahead to the first league match of 2017.
He said: “We were back in yesterday and we’re over it. It was a huge disappointment but we’ve got another important game on Saturday, another opportunity, so we’ll start again.
“I’m experienced enough to get over it because it’s not the end of the world and I know there’s other games, but you just have to be honest in these situations and at that time that was how I felt.”
He added: “It was an opportunity missed in all sorts of ways because I was very ambitious about the cup this year – I had high expectations and I felt if we could get past that one and maybe get a little bit of luck in the draw then who knows what could have happened.”
The manager is under no illusions that playing Rangers so soon after will play any part on this weeks game – it is a fresh fixture and bears no relevance.
[pullquote]The fact it’s Rangers on Saturday isn’t all that important. We just move on, it’s about the three points and we’ve just got to get up the table.[/pullquote]
The boss said: “The fact it’s Rangers on Saturday isn’t all that important. We just move on, it’s about the three points and we’ve just got to get up the table.
“You can say all you like about revenge but it won’t be revenge – if we win on Saturday it won’t be revenge for last Saturday because that’s done – it’ll be three points that will contribute to our safety and our push for a top six spot.
“The fact it’s the same opposition is coincidental but they’ll have one or two back so their team might be slightly different.”
He added: “They’ll have seen us up close on Saturday and learnt some things about us so there’s that as well, but we just have to see what we can learn from Saturday and perhaps even improve our performance.”
McGhee will be without Lee Lucas through suspension and Ross MacLean, who injured his shoulder whilst playing for the U20s.
Rangers will be boosted by the return of James Tavernier from suspension while Joe Garner, Joe Dodoo and Niko Kranjcar near their return to fitness.
Stephen McManus admits he can’t wait to get back to business on Saturday after last weekend’s Scottish Cup exit.
The defender doesn’t feel it matters that the Steelmen play Rangers again, insisting that the next game is always the most important one regardless of opposition.
And speaking to the press at Motorpoint this morning, the ex-Scotland captain revealed his heartbreak last weekend, but his desire to push past it.
McManus said: “It was good to get back in to training on Monday, that was the big thing because we were devastated as a group, really disappointed.
“That was probably the worst I’ve felt in my full career after a game.”
He added: “Saturday was tough, Saturday night was tough, Sunday was tough – so it was good to come in to work on Monday and get back to training.
“Some of us don’t always train on a Monday but for me it was a big, big thing to get back on the pitch, back among the boys in preparing for Saturday.”
Reflecting on the final five minutes of the match, McManus said: “When the second goal went in and as soon as the ball had left my boot I could see it happening that they were going to score so at that point of the game it was difficult.
“For me it was really disappointing and yes mistakes happen in the game so you have to put it behind you and move on – you need to face up to the music and that’s how it goes.”
He added: “I’ll make mistakes in the future and I’ve made mistakes in the past, everybody does, but it’s about how you react from it and that’s the biggest thing.
“At 34 you’re sitting there, you’ve experienced a lot in your career from the highs of winning leagues, losing leagues, losing cups and winning cups – pretty much everything, but for me Saturday was the toughest thing I’ve had to take.”
The 34-year-old admitted that it doesn’t matter who the Steelmen play this weekend, it’s just important to get back to action quickly.
[pullquote]I think everybody that comes to our place knows that they’ll be up against a side that will give their all for the manager, for the supporters and now it’s just about us finding that blend of consistency.[/pullquote]
He said: “For me it wouldn’t matter if we were playing Manchester United, Real Madrid or whoever – the next game is always the most important one.
“It’s good to get back to league business now, it’s good to have the winter break out the road and we know where we’re at as a squad.
“Hopefully we can get a couple of new faces in for the remainder of the season and we’ll look to kick on.”
He added: “We’ve not really hit top form consistently this season when you see how well we’ve played against Celtic – that’s the level we can play at and we know that.
“The manager has tinkered with his formation and his line-up at times and that’s just to try and find the right blend, the right style of play that suits us with the players we’ve got at our disposal.”
On Saturday’s opposition, McManus said: “Rangers are a good side, there’s no doubt about it and they have players that can hurt you.
“I think everybody that comes to our place knows that they’ll be up against a side that will give their all for the manager, for the supporters and now it’s just about us finding that blend of consistency.”
Rangers have slotted back in to the top flight of Scottish football seamlessly this season.
Despite sitting 19 points behind league leaders and arch-rivals Celtic, the Glaswegian side find themselves second in the Premiership table, midway through their first season back.
And while many won’t be surprised to see the club back around the summit of the table, it is still an impressive return to the top flight for the club after being away for four seasons.
Under manager Mark Warburton, the Gers have not only been busy in the transfer market but they have also found themselves playing an attacking brand of football.
New arrivals Joe Garner, Clint Hill, Joe Dodoo and Josh Windass have enjoyed good starts to their Rangers careers – and the recent arrivals of Jon Toral and Emerson Hyndman boost the Ibrox outfit further ahead of the second half of the campaign.
The two new arrivals both featured for the Gers last weekend, with the latter providing the all important assist for Miller’s winner – a perfectly weighted through ball.
The signings will be a welcome boost too, with Warburton’s side somewhat stuttering towards the end of 2016, ending the year with a single point from their final two fixtures.
A draw away to St Johnstone was followed up by a 2-1 loss at Ibrox to Celtic, leaving Rangers on 39 points after 21 matches.
Kenny Miller gave his side the lead in the Hogmanay clash, tapping in from close range to send the Ibrox crowd in to an early frenzy.
But a thunderous effort from Moussa Dembele after half an hour drew the visitors level before Scott Sinclair’s tap in with 20 minutes remaining secured the win for Brendan Rodgers side and left Rangers with a long wait before returning to league action tomorrow afternoon.
Both sides will be more than prepared for tomorrow afternoon’s match as the Ladbrokes Premiership gets back underway.
Not only will the two clubs have been working hard over the winter break to get back to match fitness, but having clashed last Saturday in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup, the two teams will be feeling familiar and will be more than prepared.
Neither sets of supporters will need reminding about last weekends match and ‘Well fans will be particularly hungry to witness revenge after suffering late heartbreak.
A Kenny Miller brace sealed a 2-1 win for the hosts on their own patch despite Louis Moult’s header which gave the visiting Fir Parkers a lead in the 74th minute and looked set to send them in to the fifth round and last years runner’s up out of the tournament.
But when Miller equalised in the 84th minute it seemed a replay would be in the offing.
A late lapse in concentration and a clinical finish from the Gers forward fired the Glaswegians in to a 2-1 lead and broke ‘Well hearts.
It will make McGhee’s men hungry for competitive action tomorrow afternoon at Fir Park.
Storming to the Championship title, lifting the Challenge Cup and finishing runners up in the Scottish Cup was a terrific first season for the newly appointed Warburton and his assistant David Weir last season.
This season though, while the league is starting to slide ever more in to Celtic’s grasp, Rangers will be keen to keep the gap between their rivals down, but in Motherwell they know they will face tough opposition tomorrow afternoon.
The winter break is over, the league is ready to get going again and the Fir Park faithful will be raring to go tomorrow.
It is a big match for the visitors, who will be keeping one eye over their shoulder on the results of Aberdeen who are breathing down the Light Blue’s neck in third.