ICE COOL ECK HAS THE EDGE - NUMAN; BLUES FACING UP TO A NERVY D-DAY AT MADEJSKI STADIUM.
EX-RANGERS star Arthur Numan believes the cool head of Alex McLeish will help guide Blues through the heat of today's promotion decider.
Numan experienced first hand the way in which Big Eck deals with the pressure of final day drama during their time together at Ibrox.
The Dutchman was part of McLeish's Rangers squad that pipped Martin O'Neill's Celtic to the 2003 SPL title after a nerve-jangling finale.
Rangers went into their final fixture level on points but having scored 95 goals compared to their Glasgow rivals' haul of 94. A day of twists and turns saw the silverware flitter between both sides of Glasgow with Rangers at home to Dunfermline and Celtic at Kilmarnock.
However it was McLeish's men who came out on top with a 6-1 victory at Ibrox after Celtic had only managed to hammer four unanswered goals past Killie at Rugby Park.
"We knew what we had to get from the game and with it being the final game of the season you can imagine what the atmosphere was like especially as we knew we could win the league," recalled Numan, currently working as manager of the Netherlands 'B' team.
Relief "The thing I remember was throughout the 90 minutes, we knew whether it was us or Celtic winning the league from the reaction of the crowd, it was a very strange feeling.
"It was just huge relief when we found out we had done it and of course then there was a big party after." McLeish, who also won the 2005 SPL title on the final day, will be hoping for another reason to celebrate at Reading's Madejski Stadium today as he now finds himself in a similar situation with his current club. Although they may not be gunning for a title, a return to the Premier League is of equal importance to every Bluenose.
With the slightest slip-up likely to be pounced upon by either third-placed Sheffield United or even today's opponents, the pressure will be on the Blues boss. However, former left-back Numan, who retired from playing after that 2003 title win, believes McLeish will be the same calm character that sealed success in dramatic circumstances six years ago.
"Alex just made sure it was the normal build up to that match, like it was any ordinary game. The team talk was the same for other games as was the training during the week.
"But just before the game there was obviously more tension around the dressing room and when we went out for the warm-up the crowd were so amazing we knew we couldn't let them down, we were up for it and prepared to produce 110 per cent.
"At half-time we were only winning 2-1 which was not enough, Alex was very calm and just tried to tell us that we were playing well. There was no point in yelling and shouting because the players knew what they had to do and it will be the same on Sunday for Birmingham at Reading.
"It's important for Alex to send out the best 11 players, he can do as much preparation as he wants but once the game starts then it's up to the players.
"I was surprised Birmingham got beat by Preston last weekend, it would have come as a big blow because a lot of people expected them to be promoted already. It's going to put extra pressure on Birmingham but the players know what they have to do - win and they are in the Premier League." Numan, 39, has nothing but respect for his former boss at Ibrox both professionally and personally and admits he'll be cheering the blue half of Birmingham on to promotion. The former PSV Eindhoven defender, who still lives in Scotland, has also backed McLeish to go on and become a managerial success south of the border.
"Alex is a very experienced manager, I was only at Rangers with him for 18 months but during that time we won five out of five trophies so he made a really good impression on me. He then went on to do well with Scotland and if he wins promotion for Birmingham this weekend then he will prove he is a good manager in England.
"He is a very calm manager and it is a great advantage he was a very experienced player himself who won silverware in Europe with Aberdeen.
"I'm sure he will be a success in England and I really hope that he gets Birmingham promoted to the Premier League. As much as he is the right manager, he is also a nice person." firstname.lastname@example.org
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