TOM LUCAS, one of Scotland's foremost sports psychologists, this week felt compelled to send a letter of hope and encouragement to a besieged Alex McLeish.

Lucas has been concerned not only by the psychological effect a week of speculation has had on the Rangers manager but also his public response to a three-game reprieve issued by his chairman, David Murray.

In summary, Lucas was aghast to hear McLeish declare himself "grateful" for a shortterm trial period and has questioned the policy of diplomacy towards a squad of players who might yet cost McLeish his job.

"Alex disappointed me when he said he was grateful for the opportunity to continue managing the club, " Lucas said.

"Grateful? Give me a break. The man has brought them seven trophies and has endured a week of speculation about who the chairman might be bringing in to replace him. It seemed almost subservient. He is bigger and better than that.

"He should have gone to David Murray and asked to be given the rest of the season or walked away. Sure there are financial implications but I'm convinced they could have come to some mutual arrangement. In being complicit in the agreement, he has lost some self-respect."

Lucas does not expect a reply from a manager with whom he worked regularly during his days at Motherwell and Hibernian. Yet he is curious to see if any of the advice committed to paper is heeded in a build-up to Saturday's Old Firm derby.

Lucas argues that the extent to which McLeish is prepared to administer change to his own routine could be as important, if not more so, as the performance of his players. He believes it is time for McLeish to reveal the darker side to his character, and cites the manager's handling of Sotirios Kyrgiakos's foolish dismissal in last week's 2-0 CIS Insurance Cup quarter-final defeat at Celtic Park as a perfect example.

"HowAlex conducts himself in the media this week will be more important than the game itself. He has been fiercely protective, and rarely critical, of his players in public. Well, that clearly hasn't worked. He refused to criticise Kyrgiakos when he got sent off, but everyone should have been made aware of how badly he [McLeish] felt let down.

"He has to let his innerstrength and determination come out, even if it means walking out on you guys in the press. He has to declare on Friday that he is only here to talk about football and leave the players in no doubt about the perilous situation they have left their manager in.

"Forget what they say, they will be reading it and watching it on television. The time for protecting them has long since passed."

McLeish has little option but to make yet more changes to a team languishing 12 points behind their Old Firm rivals and struggling to keep pace with Hearts and Hibs. Julien Rodriguez and Olivier Bernard are the latest to succumb to injury, although Brahim Hemdani is expected to return.

Lucas, though, argues that the most significant change should be a return for Ronald Waterreus at the expense of Stefan Klos.

The German's much-vaunted return, after two mistakes in quick succession from Waterreus, was ruined by his heavy implication in the concession of Shaun Maloney's opener and full responsibility for the own goal last week.

McLeish, having made a rod for his own back over the goalkeeping position, Lucas believes that persisting with Klos would compound the original felony and leave the manager open to yet more condemnation.

"He has to put Ronald Waterreus back in, no question, " said Lucas. "I read the explanations for Stefan Klos's failure to play in reserve games but it is still not good enough for a team the size of Rangers.

Can you imagine what Jock Wallace or Jock Stein would have said to that? The player would have been chased out of the door.

"If anything, Alex has again been too accommodating. Yes, Klos is a senior player but look at how costly the lack of activity had on his performance against Rangers. Waterreus had been playing great. Yes he made a couple of mistakes but nowhere near as bad as the ones made by Klos.

"Can you imagine what he must have been thinking to himself as he sat on the bench watching his replacement throw in two goals? I think he is the kind of character that would respond positively and say 'right, I'll show you who your No.1 is'. You have to play him or you risk making the situation even worse for yourself."

Even after describing the display at Celtic Park as "the most abject I have ever seen from any Rangers team", Lucas is convinced there is hope of salvation for McLeish this season, but only if his team can summon the strength of character to avoid a total capitulation.

McLeish having undertaken almost a week of introspection in the aftermath of that defeat, his immediate future rests on a dangerous assumption that the players have been similarly ref lective.

"Alex has taken such an emotional battering people cannot begin to realise. He has been sniped at constantly from supporters and in the media and you can only take so much. He probably thought he was off last week and, in a way, the finality would have brought an element of relief, " said Lucas. "Now he has to be bold and brave.

"It is harder for players to appreciate a crisis when they are protected by a three-year contract. Most of them couldn't give a toss. Alex has to hope they have it within themselves to fight for their pride: nobody likes to lose every week."

Saturday is red-letter day for the guilty men.