ALAN Mannus didn't know what was worse, the frustration or the helplessness.
In the end neither of them mattered a jot. The St Johnstone goalkeeper was eventually in too much physical pain to keep beating himself up after being suspended for his club's biggest game of the season.
Mannus thought he was out of Saturday's League Cup semi-final against Aberdeen because of a cheaply earned suspension, a two-game ban which should have been completed against Dundee United on Monday only for that game to be postponed. In fact, he had already picked up an injury from a weekend training session which was far more serious than first realised. He chipped a bone in his thumb when dealing with a team-mate's routine volley, an injury which will take so long to heal he might still be out even if St Johnstone make it to the cup final on March 16.
"He thought it was all right but it got worse overnight," said the St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright. "He had to go for an X-ray and he's chipped a bone in his thumb."
Only after he's seen a consultant will Wright know if Mannus will need a minor operation. "He has the double disappointment of missing the semi-final and then this injury on top of that. It's not been a good week for him. He was working with 'Banksy' [fellow goalkeeper Steve Banks] and he caught the end of his thumb. We were unaware until late yesterday that there was going to be a problem. If we do get to the final his target would be to get back in time for that, but that will depend on what the consultant says. If he says it's going to be more like eight weeks then that rules him out until practically the end of March."
Banks played when Mannus served the first half of his two-game ban against Partick Thistle last week and is a more than adequate replacement. He will turn 42 next month but the semi-final will be his fifth appearance of the season. St Johnstone's only other goalkeeper is the 18-year-od Mark Hurst, who has yet to make his debut. Wright's view is that St Johnstone have been unfortunate with injuries this season, with Mannus also missing games in August, Steven Anderson being lost for a chunk of the campaign, Steven MacLean being ruled out since October, Murray Davidson being ruled out for the rest of the season, and now Mannus suffering again.
Wright's planned preparation for the semi-final at Tynecastle inevitably was disrupted by the postponement of Monday night's game because of Tannadice's waterlogged pitch, although he put a positive spin on that yesterday.
"It probably helped us. It would have caused a problem playing on a Monday in terms of players recovering from niggles and bruises. Playing on a Saturday you had an extra 48 hours to recover from that so as it turned out we can now go into the semi-final fresh.
"The pressure is on Aberdeen. They are a bigger club and their history will tell you they have won cups, leagues and European trophies. St Johnstone have never won a senior trophy. If St Johnstone lose it will be 'ah well they did well to get to a semi-final, it's only little St Johnstone'. If Aberdeen lose then it's another defeat in a semi-final, I think they've lost their last five and for it to get to six will be tough for a club that size which is expected to win. Everyone is predicting them to win, their league position suggests they are a stronger squad. But I have total belief in my team. Semi-finals and cup games are unusual. The history of these matches is littered with defeats for teams that are expected to win."
A series of interviews with Wright and some of his players will keep St Johnstone prominent in the media until Saturday's game, but in one respect their fans would happily settle for a news blackout. They hope for utter silence when it comes to the lingering issue of whether Stevie May, their 20-goal striker, might be the subject of an unwelcome bid.
Peterborough's advances have been rejected so far and reported interest from QPR is unfounded as far as Wright understands, but naturally the entire picture could change in the time it takes to make a single phone call to Perth. St Johnstone are not a one-man team, yet it would be a grievous blow to the side and supporter morale if anyone comes in with an offer before the window closes on Friday.
"He is still a St Johnstone player and I hope that's still the case beyond Friday," said Wright. "There have been no new bids. Peterborough was the last bid and that's been knocked back, and the player has stated he doesn't want to go to Peterborough so I think that will be the end of that. QPR to my knowledge is only speculation; there has been no contact from them. There's nothing I can control about what other clubs might be thinking. I think it's good that there is this speculation about him because it means he's doing well, but from a personal point of view and for the team we would like to hold on to him until the end of the season.
"He's handled the speculation really well. People look at his appearance - long hair and tattoos - and probably get the wrong image of him. He's a very level-headed, honest lad who's worked very hard at his game. The way he has conducted himself through it all, he's just concentrated on his game and he will continue to do that. We gave him four days off and he didn't want to take them! He just wants to score goals and play football. I saw him quoted as saying that if he doesn't score and we win then he's still a bit disappointed. And that's good."