Three eye-catching results on the road during his second stint in interim charge of Rangers played a significant part in securing Graeme Murty the opportunity to become manager for at least the rest of this season.
He will now seek to combine the various elements of those victories at Murrayfield, Pittodrie and Easter Road into getting the most complete performance yet from his players as they face the most daunting Premiership away fixture of them all tomorrow.
As Murty attempts to end a turbulent 2017 for the Ibrox club on a positive note, he knows becoming the first Scottish side to win at Celtic Park for two years would represent a far greater achievement than any of those recent successes at Hearts, Aberdeen and Hibs. But he is hopeful those experiences showed his squad they possess the qualities which will be required to upset the odds against the champions.
“The Old Firm itself brings a whole different mindset and a whole different number of challenges,” said Murty, pictured.
“But I will mention those games to the guys. To go to Murrayfield, Pittodrie and Easter Road and know you can perform at a level, show different qualities at different times – it’s a question of pulling all those things together and we have to do it for 90 minutes.
“Because, if you show any weakness, frailty or indecisiveness, then Celtic have the tools and personnel to capitalise. So we have to make sure that for the whole extent of the game, we are at our top level.”
Much of the credit Murty has banked in the eyes of the Rangers support came from the manner in which he oversaw the 1-1 draw at Celtic Park in March, the final fixture of his first spell as caretaker boss before the ill-starred tenure of Pedro Caixinha commenced.
“I can take solace from having been involved with it before,” he reflected. “Having experienced the spectacle, the noise and the pageantry, I can be more focused on delivering for the players.
“We can take something from the collective spirit we showed that day. We managed to put on a good display.
“But it is something we have to build upon. It is not something that is going to replicate itself. We have to understand Celtic are slightly different now, we are slightly different and we have to perform in a hostile place. It’s a great learning curve for me. I learned a lot from preparing the team for the game there last time.
“We have a shortened time-scale this time around. But we have to make sure our guys understand some of the flexibility Celtic show. We have to show an understanding of what we are going to do to counter that.
“It takes different mentalities to go to different places. It takes a very different mentality to go where there are just 5,000 people watching, to 60,000 watching you.
“What we have to be able to do as a squad and as a coaching team is to make sure our players are prepared fully for the mental challenge. We stood up to a physical challenge against Motherwell on Wednesday. Now we have to prepare for a tactical and mental challenge, to go and perform at the home of our biggest rivals. First and foremost, we have to have the mentality right before anything else can come to bear.
“That’s down to us as a coaching staff, but also down to the players when they step on the pitch. When they see something, they have to react in a positive way so we can deal with whatever they throw at us. We are going to need leaders on Saturday. We are going to need people who can help their mate out and make them better. At a place like Celtic Park, we are definitely going to need good players to make the players around them better.”
Despite Celtic’s domestic invincibility finally being ended by Hearts, Murty isn’t reading much into the fact Brendan Rodgers’ side have dropped more points so far this season than they had at the same stage of last year’s relentlessly dominant campaign.
“I’m not going to sit here and say Celtic are this or that, or that we see weakness. We understand their strengths, we understand what they are good at.
“We understand where people have actually got at them. We need to make sure that, when we walk on to the pitch, we are ready to deal with their threats but are also ready to provide a threat of our own.
“If we recognise where we can do that and try to exploit those, I’d prefer to concentrate on us rather than talking about our opponent. That’s a standard theme throughout our pre-match briefings. We will have to be very focused and concentrated. We will have to be brave to get on the ball and play when opportunities do present themselves. We will have to be selfless, to maybe go that extra yard to help someone who is out of position. But I’m also looking for people who relish the challenge – not just accept it and sit back and take it. I want people who roll their sleeves up, relish that challenge and put in their best performance.”
Murty has not yet given up hope of Ryan Jack recovering in time from the knee injury which saw him carried off on a stretcher during the 2-0 win over Motherwell on Wednesday but says he will take no risks with the former Aberdeen midfielder.