Celtic Firm favourites as Rangers still play catch-up
The capacity crowd at Hampden Park for tomorrow's Scottish League Cup semi-final between Rangers and Celtic will be divided 50-50 amongst the rival supports, as tradition demands. However, the split will also be reflected in the degree of anxiety and eagerness transported to the stadium by the respective followings.
Footballers routinely insist that they move on swiftly from results, favourable or otherwise. However, the frequency with which they subsequently refer to the motivational impact of emphatic victories or defeats contradicts the sentiment.
It has been no different in the build-up to this fixture, mainly because last month Celtic demolished their ancient rivals 5-1 in the first Old Firm league derby for four years but also because Rangers prevailed in a penalty spot decider when the pair met in the Scottish Cup semi-final.
The history of these fixtures indicates that it is rare for drubbings to be inflicted by the same side in successive games but, until 2012, the chronicles did not include one or other club being obliged to regroup in the lowest echelon of the Scottish game because of financial calamity.
That factor was cited by Mark Warburton when the Rangers manager was invited to estimate what distance might currently exist between the sides.
"You know full well that is a difficult question for a Rangers manager, or any manager, to answer," he said.
"Budgetary wise, I imagine the gap is probably two-and-a-half to three times. They are playing in the Champions League, gaining valuable European experience and have a squad packed with international players.
"I have got utter belief that our squad is getting better and better. I am very wary of what I say. Short-term fixes won't work for Rangers after where they have been."
Nevertheless, the singular pressures of the Old Firm rivalry do not encourage nuance, far less the contemplation of long-term development, although Brendan Rodgers also referred to his work in progress in respect of the most recent collision of these sides.
"To have the first Celtic v Rangers game at home and to win 5-1 is a dream really, but I was more pleased with the performance and how the team performed," he said.
"The quality of our game was at a high level that day and psychologically it gives you big confidence but we only made that victory because of the hard work we put in and that can't let up."
(© Daily Telegraph, London)
Rangers v Celtic, Live, BT Sport 1, tomorrow, 12.15