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WITH a masterly piece of comic understatement yesterday, Alex McLeish needed only two words to sum up the saga which is denying him the services of Marvin Andrews.


'It's unusual,' the Rangers manager sighed when asked if this might be the most complex and bewildering scenario ever thrust upon him during his time in football.

He is having to cope with a professional footballer who cannot carry out his daily duties because he truly believes God can fix what, for the rest of us, would require the attention of a surgeon's scalpel.

It is an extraordinary set of circumstances so perhaps it was little wonder McLeish should choose to go deadpan when the topic was raised at Murray Park. If he didn't laugh he might cry.

Andrews the believer, meanwhile, was downstairs hobbling about the Rangers training ground with a brace on his damaged knee.

The contraption - - even he accepts - will help him recover more swiftly if not completely from the cruciate injury he suffered last month at DensParkDoctors remain adamant only an operation will cure the problem and allow Andrews to continue his career without the risk of ending it.

Although Andrews is prepared to take their advice in part - why else would he be wearing a leg brace? - he bullishly refuses to allow medics to open him up.

All the while, McLeish can only sit and wait for the first signs of the miracle Andrews has promised him.

Yet with each passing day it appears the man in charge of the Ibrox title push is becoming more sceptical.

He said: 'There is nothing further to add about Marvin. He's not training but has been coming in for treatment.

'Nothing has changed on the decision the big man made and I don't really want any more headlines. Until he's out there training again and looking like the Marvin I'm used to seeing then he won't play.

'There was an initial injury to his knee regardless of the repair work that has been recommended. The brace will help the first part of the injury.

'It will stabilise it and help to quicken the recovery. But it won't repair his cruciate.'

But McLeish's problem remains the same - that one man refuses to listen.

It is now becoming a case of what snaps first - another of Andrews' overburdened cruciates or the patience of a manager who can do without this increasingly frustrating test of faith.

Should the stand-off continue without Andrews showing any signs of real recovery, then McLeish may be left with an unenviable decision.

If Andrews will not allow doctors to repair his joint and make him fit enough for work,then his boss may be left with no choice but to haul him in on a rap of breach of contract.

Given that Andrews is one of the most likeable and honest pros operating anywhere, the thought of taking such drastic action probably makes McLeish feel like retching.

Yet he accepts that day may have to come. McLeish, whose side face Dundee United at Ibrox tonight, said: 'That's not something I've considered at this juncture. I just want to see him on the training field and I'll make an assessment when that happens.

'But, no, it can't go on indefinitelyMarvin has been a first choice and - without being disrespectful to players who have taken his place - he has been a strength to the side so it is a blow to lose him.'

McLeish, though, has not given up all hope of some sort of Lazarus-style comeback from a player who has defied the odds for much of the season since making a low-key arrival from Livingston on a summer Bosman.

Andrews,he says,may be physically robust enough to continue even with his damaged ligaments and it may be that McLeish has one eye on the last Old Firm clash at Ibrox on April 24 when the title will go on the linePerhaps, deep down, McLeish is hoping Andrews might just manage 90 minutes in that match, when his bulk and aerial ability could make all the difference, before going back into cold storage.

Yet it would appear to be a most risky strategy.

McLeish said: 'It is possible he could play because he has such strong thigh muscles.

'There are precedents and players who have played with cruciate injuries and got away with it - I think Shaun McSkimming played without a cruciate in one of his legs. So it is possible but first and foremost he's got to join the group.

'And then I would have to look at him in certain technical movements to see if it's the same Marvin who has been excellent for Rangers this season.

'He's not ready to do that yet because he's not training.'

Also out of McLeish's squad tonight will be Belgian international Thomas Buffel, who has still not fully recovered from a damaged hamstring.

With Barry Ferguson and Bojan Djordjic suspended, McLeish needs all the fit and available bodies he can get his hands on.

In will come Shota Arveladze, Maurice Ross and Peter Lovenkrands and McLeish hinted yesterday that all three could play from the start as Rangers look to open up a four-point gap at the top of the table.

He said:'United had a good result at Hampden on Saturday so they'll be confident and they are also fighting for Premiership survival. They'll be buzzing so we expect a hard game but I'm sure our players will be well up for it.'

In some cases, however, a positive mental attitude is not always enough.

And as his Marvin haggling moves into a fifth week, no one is more aware of that than McLeish himself.