EVEN before the Petrofac Training Cup made it on to the bus for the short trip back to Ibrox, with the confetti still falling back down to earth, Rangers’ victorious stars were turning their collective attention towards next week’s Old Firm semi-final.
Only in the weird and wonderful world of Scottish football would a cup final victory be looked upon as a mere prelude to the main event, but there’s no denying the reality.
The Scottish Cup meeting with Celtic is Rangers’ most important game of the season, arguably the biggest since they started the lower league journey, while yesterday’s 4-0 victory over Peterhead was a means of righting some previous wrongs.
Lee Wallace was there for each and every one of the previous Challenge Cup disappointments as Rangers failed to meet expectations and only played in the lower league tournament via the added ignominy of spending another year in the Championship.
Having suffered through the dark days and come out the other side, Wallace hailed the “huge honour” of lifting his first trophy as Rangers captain, but knows it will be scant consolation if they lose at the same venue in six days’ time.
“Now the focus turns to next week,” said Wallace. “We’re all aware of the status of the game. We have clever guys, they’ve been at the club long enough to know what it’s going to be like to play against Celtic. It’s not as if they didn’t know when they signed what it would be like. They’re well aware of the magnitude of this game and the media are going to build it up to be a magnificent occasion, which it is. We’ll prepare for this as we always have done for any other game.
“We’re certainly high on confidence. Last season, we were a bit low going into the game. But we’re in a good place and we’ve managed to secure a double in a short space of time. We will take the responsibility on and relish it.”
Wallace and striker Kenny Miller, who netted Rangers’ fourth goal against Peterhead, were the only two players in the starting XI who have played in previous Old Firm derbies.
One of the long-running narratives in the build-up to the game has centred on the experience of both squads, with a large percentage of the Celtic team having featured in the 2-0 victory against Rangers in last season’s League Cup. However, while both players are happy to take on the responsibility of leading the charge, they feel there’s little they can say that will fully prepare them for what they’re about to face.
“I don’t think you can prepare anyone for an Old Firm game. You have to experience it,” said Miller. “You can help people as much as you want and tell them how intense and how frantic it will be.
“The guys will be ready and we have good experience on the staff with Davie Weir and Jim Stewart and a few players have experienced the fixture before too. We will be ready and we look forward to it. It’s going to be a great occasion.
“We are as ready as we can be. It’s upon us now and the preparations start.
“If we turn up we know we are a match for them. We know we can beat anyone if we turn up and do what we do.”