Alex McLeish has stressed Rangers must take belief into Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi-final against Celtic as he recalled the unlikely Hampden heroics of Bert Konterman which kick-started his Ibrox reign.
McLeish took over at Ibrox in 2001 in similar circumstances to Michael Beale this season. Both arrived a few weeks before Christmas with Celtic enjoying a healthy lead in the title race which they never relinquished.
The former Motherwell and Hibernian boss laid down a marker though by gaining success in both the League Cup and Scottish Cup with Hampden wins over Celtic helping him to double trophy success, before he went on to clinch the treble the following season ahead of Martin O’Neill’s UEFA Cup finalists.
But Beale has already lost out to Celtic in the Viaplay Cup final and has been in charge in three of the five consecutive games Rangers have failed to overcome their city rivals.
McLeish, who was back in Glasgow to promote Viaplay TV’s coverage of Sunday’s derby, said: “Celtic seem to have a stranglehold on Rangers and they have such good athleticism and very quick and influential players who are making a difference in the final third.
“There is a lack of confidence in the (Rangers) front players – if you see the miss by (Fashion) Sakala at Aberdeen.
“You feel all these guys need is a little break but then again it comes down to quality of finishing and we have seen that in abundance from Kyogo, Jota, all these guys at Celtic.
“I went through a spell as well and it’s trying to see light at the end of the tunnel.
“But everybody at Ibrox needs to go into the game believing they can win. Not hoping they can win. They must have belief.
“The fast guys have got to be isolating defenders, taking people on, making a difference, as we have seen Celtic do in the last 12 months or so.
“There has to be a strategy where not only are we looking for Rangers’ flair players to turn it on, but you have got to have a strategy to stop the opposition.
“I went into a final with Birmingham against Arsenal and we knew the Arsenal strengths, so we tried to stop them, and Rangers have to stop Celtic’s strengths.”
Sunday offers a chance to reverse the fortunes just like McLeish’s side did in February 2002. After five consecutive defeats by Celtic, a long-range strike by Konterman earned Rangers an extra-time win in the League Cup semi-finals and McLeish and his team embarked on a six-match unbeaten Old Firm run which included the 2002 Scottish Cup final.
“I knew I had tremendous players who were under-performing and it was about getting them back to the levels they were capable of,” the former Scotland boss said.
“The play was too slow, we speeded it up and changed the system a little bit, and we wanted to play with a high tempo.
“We had a couple of games and then faced Celtic in a semi-final and I’ve got the bad monkey on this shoulder saying ‘what if you never, ever win a game against Celtic as the Rangers manager?’ The other one was saying ‘what if you do?’ So I focused on the glass half-full.
“We matched Celtic brilliantly that night. They had been winning the games and we stopped them playing to their best levels and it took a phenomenal goal to win the game for us from Bert Konterman.
“Listen, that’s sometimes what the cup does for you. You need a bit of inspiration. Maybe it comes from a set-piece. The captain, (James) Tavernier, has come up with some incredible goals for a full-back, and so many, and scoring from free-kicks.
“If they keep things tight and keep their eye on Jota and Kyogo and don’t give Celtic many openings, then a goal can come from anywhere. I have always liked (Ryan Kent) and felt he had the capability to be a match-winner.”
:: Alex McLeish was promoting Viaplay’s live and exclusive coverage of Rangers v Celtic on Sunday. Viaplay is offering a special limited-time offer for Scottish football fans available until Sunday only. Visit viaplay.com for more information.