McLeish struggles to close quality gap

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The Independent Football

Alex McLeish, the Rangers manager, believes his team's domestic failings were brought into sharp focus as he read the Internazionale teamsheet before the Champions' League tie on Tuesday. Roberto Mancini, the Inter coach, made 10 changes to his side before the 1-1 draw, while Rangers have struggled to name the same team for two consecutive weeks this season.

McLeish, who is expected to discover his own future at Ibrox today, believes that is the major reason why they have struggled in the Scottish Premier League.

An alarming slump has left the Scottish champions fifth in the SPL and 17 points adrift of Celtic at the top of the table. Those facts could now cost McLeish his job, despite leading a Scottish club from the group phase into the knockout stages of the Champions' League for the first time.

McLeish has often spoken of the burden injuries have placed upon his team this season, but it was never more evident than when Inter came calling at Ibrox.

Mancini left eight big names in Italy - Marcello Ze Maria, Julio Cruz, Alvaro Recoba, Ivan Cordoba, Luis Figo, Kily Gonzalez, Dejan Stankovic and Juan Sebastian Veron - ahead of the Serie A derby against Milan on Sunday.

Only striker Adriano remained in the side which defeated Ascoli at the weekend, highlighting the strength of the Inter squad.

Now McLeish is hoping his critics will realise just how difficult his own job has been this season. He said: "Don't forget that we have had a lot of players missing and not through choice. Mancini was able to change his team but you saw the array of superstars that played in that team.

"I think that's a fundamental fact that was perhaps overlooked many, many times. You saw the difference of Barry Ferguson coming in, along with Thomas Buffel, they added great quality to our team."

Peter Lovenkrands cancelled out Adriano's opening goal to earn a point. But it was the goalless draw between Artmedia Bratislava and Porto in the other Group H game which allowed Rangers to join Inter in the last 16.

However, McLeish believes the players who have been at his disposal this term have been affected by the absence of those who have not.

"We have all under-performed and had criticism for it, but Peter's pace caused a lot of problems to the Inter rearguard," he said. "But, to exploit that pace, you need players to provide the passes. Thomas Buffel was excellent and Barry Ferguson and Bob Malcolm were very disciplined in midfield. It was a classic Champions' League performance."

Whether McLeish's four-year reign will end today or not, he knows he will always be remembered as the Rangers manager who finally took the side into the later stages of the Champions' League. "There has been good backing in terms of some the Champions" League games. But the championships we've won, the cups we've won, no-one ever said it was because of the manager's tactics. So, I don't pay too much heed.

"You have to get some things right - discipline, the team, the shape of the team - and it was perfect against a tremendously talented team."

The Rangers defender Ian Murray believes McLeish should still be in charge when they enter the knockout stages.

"Of course, I hope Alex McLeish is still the manager for the next round," he said. "He deserves to be there because he has taken us into the next stage. He can hold his head up high like the rest of us and it is only right that he gets the chance.

"A couple of weeks ago, we were supposedly the worst team in Rangers' history, so it was nice to make history for the right reasons," he added.

"Football is strange. I think Celtic won all their home games one year in the group stages and still didn't qualify. But it was fantastic for us to get through such a hard group."

The former Hibernian player insists Tuesday's achievement vindicates his decision to leave Easter Road in the summer. "It's a fantastic achievement from a collective point of view and for me personally."