FORMER Rangers striker Mark Hateley has warned Old Firm novices that their first taste of the Glasgow derby will be over in a flash.
A host of Celtic and Rangers players will face each other for the first time at Hampden given it has been almost three years since the last Old Firm clash.
Ten of the Hoops players who beat Ross County on Saturday and the bulk of the Ibrox squad have never played in a Celtic-Rangers fixture.
And Hateley believes Celtic assistant John Collins - a veteran of the derby - will play a crucial role in preparing his players for what lies in store.
When asked about his Old Firm debut, Hateley said: “I can’t remember it. When I first came, they said you don’t remember your first two games. I laughed it off, but you don’t. It goes whoosh - it kicks off and it finishes.
“I have watched a couple of DVDs of the early Old Firm games and you honestly don’t remember it. It comes and goes that quickly. The third, the fourth, the fifth and sixth you take in, but the first couple for a novice is a blur.
“Expect it to be fast and ferocious. You have to concentrate so much on the job in hand. They will know after 20 minutes what kind of game it is.”
The former AC Milan, Monaco and England forward, who was promoting the game for 666BET.com, said: “I loved it because it was basically right up my alley. It was fast and furious, physical, big tackles, hard running. And you were involved in the game a lot.
“You probably got three shots every five Milan derbies; in an Old Firm game you are going to have five or six great chances to score goals, for a good striker. The first 20 minutes, the ball bounces in midfield and all you do is help the ball on so you are turning defenders and running towards goal.”
Hateley enjoyed dominance over Celtic during his time at Ibrox, which resulted in five league title wins. But the blue half of Glasgow has been in turmoil for three years with the team forced to start again in the lower leagues after the club was liquidated.
And Hateley knows Rangers will need a strong all-round performance if they are to have any chance of reaching the Scottish League Cup final, presented by QTS.
Hateley said: “In my time when I played, the shoe was on the other foot. I don’t think I can remember such a margin between the two clubs but it is an Old Firm game and it’s a game that everyone will want to play in.
“It’s about getting seven or eight people to get the result and I think that’s been the problem with Rangers this season, they have looked to one individual to do it.
“It’s going to take a collective performance if Rangers are going to do it, and you are going to need Celtic to be off the boil a little bit. I think it would be an upset if Rangers win. It would be a great performance and a great win if Rangers win.”
Meanwhile, Hateley revealed he had not been able to speak to former striker partner Ally McCoist since reports claimed the sidelined Rangers manager was ignoring his calls.
Hateley has categorically denied reports that he sought information on McCoist’s management style for the Rangers board shortly before his friend tendered his resignation and was put on garden leave.
When asked if he had spoken to McCoist and sorted the situation out, Hateley said: “I’ve been far too busy. We probably will do, in time. I’m too busy at the moment but it will get sorted.
“It was an absolute load of rubbish, a complete non-story that got put out there, and that’s all I would like to say on it. It was completely fictitious. I have no phone numbers and I wouldn’t even phone a first-team player. Never have done and never will do.”
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