Alex McLeish knows exactly how quickly the pendulum can swing in Glasgow. Twenty years ago, it was the former Rangers manager who found himself going up against a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut, utterly desperate for the tide to turn and for the momentum between Scotland’s biggest clubs to swing towards the blue half of the city.

After taking the reins of the Ibrox outfit towards the end of 2001, the former Motherwell and Hibernian boss did not have his troubles to seek. Celtic, under the guidance of Martin O’Neill, had racked up five straight Old Firm victories by the time February rolled around and McLeish was provided with his first taste of one of the world’s fiercest derbies.

The deck was stacked against Rangers that day – there was a general acceptance that O’Neill’s men were the favourites heading into the Scottish Cup semi-final – but when the full-time whistle rang out at Hampden, it was McLeish’s men that had booked their place in the final.

The match itself was a tense affair. Peter Lovenkrands’ goal on the cusp of half-time handed Rangers the lead before Bobo Balde’s equaliser ensured the game went to extra-time, where Bert Konterman’s 25-yard rocket sealed a morale-boosting victory for the men from Govan.

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The conundrum facing Michael Beale, the current Ibrox manager, isn’t all that dissimilar. Like McLeish, he heads into Sunday’s derby utterly desperate for success and with the odds against him. But with the fine margins that often decide these fixtures at play, the former Scotland boss remains convinced that one stunning moment can change the entire complexion of the famous rivalry – just as it did 21 years ago.

“He definitely needs a Konterman moment,” McLeish said of Beale. “Watching the strikers last week, he’s got [Fashion] Sakala and [Rabbi] Matondo is quick as well, but seeing the guys missing the chances they had, you can see there’s a lack of confidence and they just need one wee break.

“They have to rely on the quicker ones to get at Celtic, as Celtic have got at Rangers in recent games.

“I spoke to Sir Alex [Ferguson, McLeish’s manager at Aberdeen] the night before that game and he said you have to get them to play assertively, get the ball moving fast. To see Bert ramming it in from 25 yards... before the game I had the bad parrot sitting on one shoulder saying: ‘what if you never beat Celtic’ and the the good one on the other shoulder asking me: ‘But what if you do beat them?’

“At the time Celtic were on the march. I knew Rangers had to play a bit quicker and I still see that with today’s team. They have to play quicker. They seem to rotate the ball and it ends up back with the guy who started it, rather than breaking the lines and getting the assertive passing going.

“That was one of the little things I changed when I went into Rangers.”

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Beale is currently in the midst of applying his own touches to Rangers’ tactical blueprint and the general consensus is that the team remains a work in progress. The Englishman is apparently up against an opponent who possesses a Midas touch – Ange Postecoglou’s shortcomings since he first pitched up in Glasgow a year and a half ago can be counted on one hand – and it is a situation that McLeish can sympathise with.

When the former Rangers boss first got his feet under the desk at Ibrox, he too had to find a way past an adversary who cast a pretty large shadow. O’Neill was idolised by the Celtic support after improving the club’s fortunes on the park and it was McLeish who was tasked with finding a way to overhaul Rangers’ rivals.

“You take every challenge as it comes,” McLeish explained. “And Ange, definitely in the beginning, you are thinking, ‘wait a minute, he is not going to last long’. Then all of a sudden it becomes clear the style of play he put into the team, the players proved different to what people thought.

“It would have been great to challenge him but I think at the end of the day you have to believe in yourself. Rangers have to play a wee bit faster to get through the thirds.

“I felt when I joined and I watched videos that we were trying to walk everything into the net. It was like trying to score the beautiful goal and get to the byline, cut it back, tap in.

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“One of the things I vowed to do was play at a higher tempo and pass it through the thirds – not long-ball football but get it to the forwards as quickly as possible. Use a wee bit of imagination in and around the box.

“From watching the Aberdeen game [where Rangers lost 2-0], they did have chances. Celtic have been more ruthless with their strikers getting those chances. Matondo and Sakala just lack a bit of confidence with the final finish. All it takes is one little change in fortune but obviously a change in quality as well.”

Finding a way to somehow stop Kyogo Furuhashi, Celtic’s star striker, will be of utmost importance to Rangers on Sunday. Putting the shackles on their rivals’ talismanic forward is an unenviable task facing Beale to say the least and as a former centre-half, McLeish knows just how difficult a challenge it will be for the Ibrox backline.

The Aberdeen great knows exactly how he would solve such a problem back in his playing days, but it won’t prove especially useful to Beale come Sunday afternoon – unless Dons legend Willie Miller decides to dust off his boots for one last hurrah.

McLeish said: “I would have passed him on to Willie! He was the head waiter whenever I didn’t take care of someone. It was Charlie Nicholas who called him the head waiter. 

“It was a different style, and we played centre-half and sweeper. Willie was always there to sweep up.

“What Kyogo is tremendous at is that, when the opposition push up, he stays high and when Celtic break the line he is onside for a cut back. I don’t know how many goals I have seen him score like that.

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“You have to have a strategy on how to deal with that and Michael will be putting something down I’m sure. You have to get the Satnav out and say, ‘where is Kyogo?’ You need to stop him.

“But Celtic are such a good side in terms of speed and finishing. In the Rangers set, the speedy guys have not really believed in themselves in front of goal.”