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Page last updated at 11:30 GMT, Friday, 23 May 2008 12:30 UK

Strachan's magic number is three

By Martin Conaghan

Gordon Strachan lifts the SPL trophy for the third time
Strachan's success has pleased the Celtic board

For Gordon Strachan, three is the magic number.

Having secured his third successive Scottish Premier League championship title, he now joins an illustrious trio of Celtic managers who have achieved such a feat.

And he is only the third manager in Scottish football to do so since the Second World War.

Celtic's first-ever manager, Willie Maley, and the legendary Jock Stein are the only two other managers to have secured three titles in a row from scratch for the Glasgow side.

At Rangers, William Wilton, Bill Struth and Walter Smith make up the only Ibrox trio who have notched up the elusive three-in-a-row.

In his three years since taking over from Martin O'Neill in May 2005, Strachan has met with mixed emotions from the Celtic support, ranging from delight at keeping the Celtic Park trophy cabinet well-stocked, to frustration with his style of play.

He has also faced challenges from three different Rangers managers during his time at Celtic, in the shape of his old Aberdeen team-mate, Alex McLeish, doomed Frenchman Paul Le Guen and, more recently, master tactician Walter Smith.

Arguably, Strachan's toughest test arrived in his first competitive match in charge of the Glasgow club, when Celtic were hammered 5-0 in a Champions League qualifier away to Artmedia Bratislava.

Despite a spirited attempt to overturn the result in the return leg, Celtic exited European competition for the season, having also drawn their opening SPL match of the season away to Motherwell three days earlier.

The dreadful start aside, Strachan quickly made amends and Celtic went on a 23-match unbeaten run that ended with a shock defeat to Clyde in the Scottish Cup - and the hounds were soon baying at his door.

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ALFIE CONN

But a title championship victory in his first season in charge was followed by a 3-0 triumph over Dumfermline at Hampden in the Scottish Cup final, smothering the nightmares of Broadwood and Bratislava.

That number three again.

The success of his first season was followed up with qualification for the Champions League group stages and progress to the last 16 of Europe's elite football tournament for the first time in Celtic's history, along with the small matter of another league and Scottish Cup double.

Then Paul Le Guen made a swift exit back to France, making way for Walter Smith's dramatic return to Ibrox - and the balance of power slowly shifted back across the city to Govan as Strachan's third season got underway.

Even with an unprecedented second successive season in the last 16 of the Champions League, Strachan's side soon fell behind in the SPL title race and struggled to find form against Smith's galvanised Rangers, who had notched up four straight victories against Celtic without conceding a single goal.

A narrow defeat to Motherwell at Fortress Parkhead seemed to spell the end as Rangers went all the way to the Uefa Cup final in Manchester with a quadruple of trophies in sight.

Gordon Strachan
Strachan's first match in charge ended in a 5-0 defeat

It wasn't long before sections of the Celtic support were calling for Strachan's head on a plate after a series of results saw their side slip seven points behind in the title chase, with their city rivals also holding vital games in hand.

And then the sun shone through the clouds for the little man with the ginger hair; two resounding victories over their Old Firm rivals at Celtic Park, coupled with favourable draws from Rangers' encounters with Hibs and Motherwell, and the title race was back on.

It all came down to the dramatic final day of the SPL season at Tannadice, when Strachan's men held their nerve to overcome Dundee United and project their manager into the annals of history.

Three important questions now remain over Strachan's future with the club.

Can he follow up on a historic three-in-a-row?

Can Celtic make it past the last 16 of the Champions League under his leadership?

More importantly, will he stay or will he go?

Only time will tell if Strachan's magic number ends at three, or four, or more.




see also
Football Podcast
22 Apr 08 |  Scotland
Celtic success delights Strachan
22 May 08 |  Scottish Premier
Dundee United 0-1 Celtic
22 May 08 |  Scottish Premier
How the SPL title was won
23 May 08 |  Scottish Premier
SPL 07/08 - a season in pictures
22 May 08 |  Scottish Premier


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