No-one would ever describe Jason Holt as a candid conversationalist. Yet, words are not always required to tell all.
So it proved when the Rangers midfielder, who arrived at Ibrox from his boyhood club Hearts last summer, was asked if there wasn’t even the tiniest bit of him that didn’t have some sympathy for his club’s Scottish Cup final opponents Hibernian.
A club cursed by the Fates in a season that will end with them dragging their weary frames to Hampden on Saturday, seeking to end a 114-year wait for the trophy... a week after their Premiership promotion hopes were ended with an injury-time Falkirk strike in the play-offs that made the defeat all-too-painfully like the League Cup final agony they endured against Ross County.
Holt’s pupils, meanwhile, became all-too-notably like the size of footballs when the sympathy question was punted towards him.
“I don’t think there is room for sentiment,” he said. “My full concentration is on the game and what I’ll be involved in on Saturday. It’s a cup final, it’s a massive occasion, but we will try and treat it like any other match. I have a couple of friends who are Hibs fans but like I say, my focus is on the game, Rangers and what we need to do.”
Maybe Holt didn’t mean it this way, but it almost seemed he was giving a gentle kicking to Hibernian in musing on the fact that the final will mark the sixth game between the teams following a Championship campaign in which Mark Warburton’s men ultimately left the Easter Road side trailing. They did so helped, in part, by two of the three goals that Holt bagged in the fixture. These propelled Rangers to a 4-2 victory at Ibrox on 28 December that proved the pivotal result in a title tussle then on a knife edge.
“There is a rivalry there with Hibs, it’s been there all season,” he said. “At the start I think most people predicted it would be between Rangers and them for the title. But there are a lot of good teams in the Championship and that has been proven. We need to treat it like any other game. I know it’s a cup final and I know it will be hyped up but we need to stay completely focused.”
Falkirk proved to be more resilient than Alan Stubbs’ men to earn a shot at Kilmarnock in tonight’s Premiership play-off final first leg but Holt and his team-mates can’t afford to fall into line with the popular belief that the gut-wrenching ending of Hibernian’s target of top-flight football will leave them too low to scale the necessary heights at Hampden.
“I think they are going to be itching to go out on Saturday and win the game, win the cup, for the fans,” he said. “We’re no different. We want to go and do the same. It’s a big game for the players, the club and the staff. We want to make sure it’s a good day.”
Holt, who has been one of the central performers in Warburton’s team with 12 goals in 43 appearances, has known a cracking day at Hampden. Hey, and what do you know, it just had to have been at Hibs’ expense. Of course it did.
The 23-year-old, though, could hardly be begrudged calling to mind the 5-1 Scottish Cup final win that will forever have a special place in the folklore of the Tynecastle club, for whom he featured as a substitute when they lost 3-2 to St Mirren in the League Cup final the following year.
“I wasn’t involved in the game itself but luckily I was able to travel with the squad and enjoy the celebrations afterwards,” he recalled. “That was a great day. I’d made my breakthrough that season and I had been training a lot with the first team. I got one or two games and it was an incredible experience just to be a part of it all. I was suited and booted and out on the pitch with the cup at the final whistle.
“The following day we had the open top bus tour of Edinburgh which again was an amazing experience and something I will always look back on.
“It was incredible. And it’s like everyone says, once you’ve had a taste of it you want it all the time. I’m no different in that regard.”