McLeish prepares for final Old Firm derby with head held high

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The Independent Football

Alex McLeish will tomorrow manage Rangers in his ninth and final Old Firm league derby on home turf insisting that he will leave Ibrox at the end of the season with his head held high.

It was confirmed on Thursday that he will leave the club in May, and he said yesterday that it was his decision to go. "You have a shelf life in charge of a high-pressure club like Rangers," he said. "I am proud of the [seven] trophies we have won in my time."

Celtic's lead over Rangers of 18 points in the title race means Rangers have no realistic chance of retaining their title, and they are out of both domestic cups.

The only silverware still on offer is in the Champions' League, and the only meaningful target domestically is to try to qualify for Europe next season by climbing to third or higher.

Celtic are top with 61 points, with Hearts, who play at home to Aberdeen today, second on 51. Hibs, who travel to Falkirk, are third on 44, with Rangers next on 43.

In contrast, the game will also mark Roy Keane's first Old Firm derby. The Celtic striker Shaun Maloney believes the former Manchester United midfield general will be more than ready to handle the occasion.

"He probably won't be surprised by the passion," Maloney said. "He's been to a few Old Firm games as a fan and played in a few Manchester derbies and I'm sure they are similar," Maloney said. "He's not said a thing about it, he's stayed pretty quiet on the subject, although to be fair I think everybody has."

The Celtic manager Gordon Strachan said: "Roy has been involved in quite a few big games, I don't think he's scared of any occasion."

McLeish's Old Firm record is respectable, having won 10, drawn two and lost 11 games in 23 meetings in all competitions. Of greater concern tomorrow will be his league record at Ibrox, where he has overseen only three wins, a draw and four defeats in eight league outings. Rangers won 3-1 early in the season, in a match marred by an early red card for Celtic, but Celtic have improved while Rangers have slumped.

McLeish's successor is likely to be Paul Le Guen, although if that pre-agreed deal falls through, the likes of Graeme Souness, Terry Butcher, Ottmar Hitzfeld and Alan Curbishley would enter the frame.