Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

McLeish hands Celtic title hope

Retaining belief against all odds is the key to securing a championship on the last day of the season, according to former Rangers manager Alex McLeish.

McLeish presided over the ultimate in late-season swings when he led the Light Blues to the Scottish Premier League title at Easter Road in 2005.

His side were doing all they could to put pressure on leaders Celtic by defending a 1-0 advantage at Hibernian, while Martin O’Neill’s team were also one up at Motherwell.

But McLeish was in a distinct minority in his belief that the tide would turn.

He was proved right when Scott McDonald’s 88th-minute equaliser against his future employers swung the title in Rangers’ favour and the Australian made sure of a celebration in Govan with an injury-time winner.

McLeish claims he never gave up hope as he awaited news from Fir Park and he is advising the current Rangers players to maintain their belief at Dundee United on Sunday.

Rangers this year go into the final day ahead by two points, knowing victory at Tannadice will secure the Scottish Premier League trophy.

But Celtic’s superior goal difference means the champions will retain the title if they beat Hearts and their Old Firm rivals fail to win.

McLeish said: "I keep emphasising to my players over the years — it probably came from within the Aberdeen dressing room being with guys like Willie Miller, Stuart Kennedy, Gordon Strachan — that it only takes a second to score a goal.

"You have seen drama in all sorts of professional sports.

"I was just waiting for that roar and when it happened it sent shivers down my spine that I have never experienced. I hope I can experience that again.

"It was one of these things that happen in your life that you can only dream about. The reality came true that day.

"We went into the day knowing it was out of our hands, but the belief remained.

"The whole teamtalk revolved around us winning the game. Make sure you win the game because if something happened at Fir Park, you would never forgive yourselves if you don’t win this.

"It’s not as easy as, ’Just winning’. We were up against a Hibs team that was going for Europe. It was a good Hibs team that Tony Mowbray had assembled."

McLeish had spent the week before the trip to Leith emphasising the need to remain positive, with players such as committed Christian Marvin Andrews backing him up.

"We had big Marvin coming in with ‘Believe’ T-shirts so there was an air of belief," said the current Birmingham City manager, who was in charge of Scotland in between being boss at Ibrox and his present post.

"I said to the players if we did win but lost the league, I would still be proud.

"They came in at half-time and their body language wasn’t good. They knew the score at Fir Park and we were 0-0. I had to remind them a two-goal swing could change it.

"We got the goal and the players looked as if they really believed at that time. Something had to give at Motherwell.

"When the roar went up among the Rangers fans, it was probably the greatest feeling I have had in my football career.

"And of course, the helicopter changed direction."

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