McLeish hunts for winning groove on stuck Ibrox record

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The Independent Online

If Alex McLeish were not officially living on borrowed time as the manager of Rangers, his declaration that his players have to "focus on restoring some pride" in today's lunchtime Old Firm derby at Celtic might have had some gravitas.

As it is, he sounded like a broken record. After many poor Rangers performances since August, he has said much the same and failed to deliver, or rather failed to inspire his players to deliver. Yesterday he trotted out banalities such as "a win would be fantastic for us", "we have to go there organised", and "we must improve this time." Sherlock Holmes he is not.

If he did have a clue how to put his season back on track, Rangers would surely have won more than three league games since beating Celtic in the first Old Firm game in August. But they have not, and lie fourth in the table this morning, 12 points behind Celtic and Hearts, and eight adrift of third-placed Hibernian.

Rangers have won two of their last 11 games in all competitions, and went down without a fight in their last match, 2-0 to Celtic in the CIS Cup quarter-final 10 days ago. McLeish has until "early December" to save his job according to his own chairman, David Murray. The games in that period are today's derby, Wednesday's tricky Champions' League trip to Porto and next week's trip to Hibs.

At a push, if McLeish conjured unlikely positive results in those, his stay of execution could stretch to the match with Falkirk on 3 December and the last Champions' League group match, at home to Internazionale on 6 December. Even for Big Eck, it is a big "if".

McLeish is only still in his job because Murray failed to secure the man he wanted to replace him as quickly as he had hoped. That man might be Charlton's Alan Curbishley, or George Burley, or the former Ibrox hero Ally McCoist, who this week declined a request from McLeish to take up a coaching role at Ibrox. Even Murray has admitted: "There has always been contingency plans, and funds are in place." McLeish himself added yesterday: "I don't want to say the dressing-room backs me because I know one or two players look for a wee change."

Rangers will be without defenders Olivier Bernard and Julien Rodriguez today, but Marvin Andrews returns from triumphant World Cup duty with Trinidad & Tobago.

Celtic's Gordon Strachan had nothing to say, again, about McLeish's predicament, nor about Roy Keane, whose departure from Manchester United was announced after Strachan's morning press conference.

Hearts must wait until tomorrow's visit to Aberdeen to attempt to overtake Celtic. The game will be Graham Rix's first as Hearts' new coach. The heat on McLeish has taken some off Rix, for now.

However, such a fiery reception is expected at Pittodrie that Rix, who served a prison sentence for having sex with a 15-year-old girl, will have his own minder in the dug-out.

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