JON Daly does not have happy memories of facing Celtic in Hampden semi-finals. The big Rangers striker suffered two of the most agonising defeats of his career at the national stadium against the Parkhead club, despite finding the net three times over the course of the ties.
In the 2009 League Cup semi-final, Daly scored from the spot for Dundee United in an epic penalty shoot-out which Celtic eventually won 11-10. Four years later, Daly managed two goals in open play in the last four of the Scottish Cup but still ended up on the losing side when United were edged out 4-3 in extra-time.
As the 32-year-old Irishman prepares for tomorrow’s Old Firm League Cup semi-final, he is naturally determined to reverse that trend.
“I’ll hopefully use the experiences of those other semi-finals to try and help me,” said Daly. “Someone has to lose on the day but it’s not nice getting beat in a semi-final.
“This is a massive game for me. I won the Scottish Cup with United in 2010, but in terms of semi-finals this is the biggest one I’ve been involved in. It’s one that, on your day, you can win with a bit of luck. We need to be sure we limit Celtic to as few chances as possible to give ourselves the best chance of getting through.”
As Daly prepared for his Old Firm debut, he revealed he has never even been to one as a spectator and that the fixture carried no great resonance with him when he was growing up in Dublin. “I was a massive Manchester United fan and it was their games I used to watch on the telly when they came about,” he said. “I haven’t got any massive memories of the old Celtic or Rangers teams, to be honest.
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“The Old Firm games are obviously very intense with a great atmosphere and I’d expect the same on Sunday.”
Daly is unconcerned that he and his Rangers team-mates have been largely written off by both bookmakers and media ahead of tomorrow’s showdown.
“It doesn’t bother me at all,” he shrugged. “There is always a favourite in each game to you play and Celtic are rightly favourites for this one. They are top of the Premiership, a really good side and that’s something we have to deal with and get our heads round.
“Since I’ve been at Rangers, this is probably the biggest game I’ve been involved in. It would be nice to win it and give ourselves and the fans a big lift. I don’t think we’re more determined because Celtic are favourites. You should be determined in every game.
“This game is going to be no different. We’re going to give everything to try and win the game. With the rivalry between the two clubs, it’s obviously one the fans will be wanting us to win even more. We’ll do our best to do that.
“We’ve done well against Premiership teams this season and have to take heart from that. We played quite well in those games and have to try and do the same against a very good Celtic side. They are probably going to be a step-up from what we have played before.”
Daly, however, believes the significance of a victory tomorrow for Rangers has been over-stated.
“I don’t see us going down as legends or anything like that if we win,” he added. “If you win this game, you still have to play a very tough final against Aberdeen or Dundee United. So that hasn’t entered our minds. It’s just a game we are trying to win to reach a final. Celtic are a very good side but we believe we are also a good side if we play to our capabilities.”
Rangers striker Kris Boyd knows his team could not match Celtic over a season – but he sees no reason why they cannot do so over an afternoon.
Boyd admits his side will need to be on their game to avoid a painful defeat but cup victories over Inverness, St Johnstone and Kilmarnock this season have shown they can compete, despite their struggle to keep apace with Scottish Championship leaders Hearts.
Boyd said: “I do think we are of a level right now of the teams we have beaten and over the course of a season we could match them, but I don’t think we could match Celtic.
“We understand where we are but you just need to look at the FA Cup at the weekend. You can be an underdog and go and win games. We feel we have got good players and we can cause them problems.
“We have a group of hard working people who will go there and give our best and hopefully that is good enough to get us over the finish line, but we’ll not get carried away.
“We are under major pressure to perform and it’s up to us to prove if you can work, like Bradford and Middlesbrough did at the weekend, you can upset the favourites.
“We need to go out and match them and hopefully, with that bit of luck, we can find ourselves in the final. But if we don’t go out and match them and we don’t perform to a level where we can stop them playing, we are going to be in for a long afternoon.”
Celtic striker John Guidetti raised eyebrows by saying he fancied himself for three goals in the semi-final and Boyd feels his team-mates have done the right thing by keeping it low key.
“You get the feeling that a lot of our guys have sat back and let Celtic talk, we’re already 3-0 down according to John Guidetti!
“But I don’t think you can be distracted with stuff off the field. For us we need to remain focused on our job and that is to go out there between now and Sunday and prepare the best we can.”