McLeish faces downbeat end to his Rangers career

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The Independent Online

Alex McLeish will leave Rangers with his pride rather battered, after finishing third in the Scottish Premier League this season.

The manager had hoped to secure the runners-up spot to Celtic - and a Champions' League place - before making way for Paul le Guen but that prize went to Hearts after their win over Aberdeen in midweek and the season-closing game between the two clubs tomorrow is now meaningless.

"It's a blow that we've finished third," McLeish said. "It's a blow to everybody's pride. Myself, the chairman, Martin Bain [the chief executive] and, of course, the players - we all feel it. But it was looking a lot worse in January."

Rangers were 16 points adrift of Hearts at Christmas and fifth in the SPL following the worst sequence of results in the club's history, which almost cost McLeish his job there and then. He was given a stay of execution and Rangers gradually hauled themselves into the race for the runners-up spot, cutting Hearts' advantage to just four points.

McLeish said: "We were in an almost impossible situation in December and January, when I decided to stay until the end of the season, and it was just a bridge too far for us."

His Celtic counterpart, Gordon Strachan, has hailed McLeish's treble win with Rangers in 2003 as the finest achievement of its kind.

During his four-and-a-half-year tenure, the former Hibernian and Motherwell manager, a friend of Strachan's since their playing days at Aberdeen in the 1980s, has won seven trophies - including the domestic treble in his first full season at Ibrox.

"I think Alex should walk away and say 'What a job I've done'," Strachan said. "I still think his was the best treble in recent history that I can remember. It was achieved without the aid of big money and it was done against a top Celtic side.

"The managers before him got a lot of money and the managers after him, I imagine, will get a lot of money, so what he's done is truly fantastic."

Strachan has Craig Beattie available, after a hamstring injury, for Celtic's trip to Aberdeen.