West Lothian IBC champion Thomas Mann served up four superb winning performances in the playdown action of the national singles at Cumbernauld to earn a serious crack at landing the title last brought back to the Inveralmond stadium at Livingston by Jim Boyle in 1984.
Mann booked his place in the last four line-up to compete at Falkirk over the weekend of January 12/13 by capturing the scalps of Kyle Ross of Inverness, Kenny Johnstone of Tweedbank, Steven Rankin of Auchinleck and Craig Moss of Bainfield.
The major highlight of Mann’s progress into the semi-finals came in his quarter-final with chief Edinburgh hope Craig Moss of Bainfield with the marathon clash lasting 27 ends and going right down to the wire.
Mann clinched an epic 21-20 victory in thrilling circumstances as he had looked to be heading for a commanding win at 20-11 up on the Bainfield champion, but Moss set the stadium alight with a scorching fightback of 2, 3, 1, 2, 1 to 20.
The momentum now lay with Moss and the Bainfield support were poised to cheer a sensational victory, but Mann showed he had weathered the storm of a whirlwind attack by nicking the match-winning single.
“I thought I was going to get up on the line and beat Thomas but I had come from well off the pace and in a real testing climax found that he had the skills and mental strength to deal with my challenge,” said Moss.
“It could have gone either way in the end and the thought did cross my mind that I was on the verge of blowing it but I kept my nerve and focus,” reflected 31-year old Mann.
Mann had launched his playdown campaign against his Inverness counterpart Kyle Ross in the prelim round and, having made steady headway to lead 15-12, showed a touch of class with a run of 1, 3, 1, 1 to hit 21 in 19 ends.
Stalwart Tweedbank challenger Kenny Johnstone was next in Mann’s sights and the West Lothian champion made a blitz start to lead 15-5, but faced a growing menace at 18-14 before clinching a 21-15 win in 24 ends.
Question time became even hotter for Mann with his third test of the campaign coming in the shape of legendary figure Steven Rankin of Auchinleck, whose impressive CV includes 51 caps and the National Singles title in 1989.
Rankin – runner up in 1988 – was immediately on the back-foot with Mann leading 11-2 but Rankin closed it to 15-14 then, two ends later, the Auchinleck man crossed 17-16.
Peels were called at 18-18 after 21 ends however Mann signalled that he is the ‘man of today’ by soaking up the pressure to land a late 1, 2 that completed the knockout of a still great competitor.