Stephen Halliday: Steven Gerrard is no different to any other Old Firm manager

With the sacking of Craig Levein on Thursday afternoon, Hearts pre-empted one of the potential consequences from this weekend’s Betfred Cup semi-finals.

Rangers are still waiting for the first major trophy since 2011
Rangers are still waiting for the first major trophy since 2011

But if the Gorgie club’s interim manager Austin MacPhee now finds himself with little to lose, there remains plenty at stake for the other three leading occupants of the Hampden technical areas.

MacPhee will lead Hearts into Sunday’s battle against Rangers amid low expectations from a support simply relieved that CEO Ann Budge, having defended the seemingly indefensible for so long, finally pulled the plug on Levein’s increasingly wretched Tynecastle tenure .

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While Hearts begin the search for a new manager in earnest, it’s effectively a free hit for MacPhee against an in-form Rangers side who are heavy odds-on favourites to progress.

There is no such luxury for Rangers manager Steven Gerrard on Sunday afternoon, or for Celtic boss Neil Lennon and his Hibernian counterpart Paul Heckingbottom when their teams go toe-to-toe in the first semi-final at the national stadium on Saturday evening.

While Gerrard’s current approval rating among Rangers supporters could scarcely be higher after a progressive and encouraging season so far, both domestically and in Europe, this is undeniably a key juncture of the former Liverpool captain’s Ibrox incumbency.

For all of the unquestionable improvements he has made at a club which was in turmoil when he arrived, Gerrard is no different to any other Old Firm manager in that his success or otherwise will be defined purely by silverware. A repeat of his team’s flop at Hampden 12 months ago, when they lost 1-0 to Aberdeen in the semi-final, would represent a jarring setback for Gerrard in the quest to end Celtic’s Scottish trophy hegemony.

It is that unprecedented sequence of domestic success, started by Brendan Rodgers three seasons ago, which also ensures Lennon is under his own kind of pressure when he takes on former club Hibs.

Lennon picked up the mantle from Rodgers faultlessly last season, completing the club’s third consecutive treble and he has extended their record-breaking run of victories in domestic cup ties to 29.

The law of averages will inevitably catch up with Celtic at some point but a significant element of their support are unforgiving when they witness even a hint of regression, as Lennon experienced in their hyperventilating reaction to the Champions League exit against Cluj in August. It’s a level of scrutiny and expectation which Lennon is well versed in handling and all the signs point to him guiding Celtic into their seventh consecutive domestic cup final.

Upsetting those odds and somehow plotting an unlikely Hibs victory may now be the only chance left for Heckingbottom to retrieve the almost completely diminished faith in his capabilities among the Easter Road faithful.

Martin Boyle’s stoppage-time equaliser against Livingston on Wednesday night probably bought the Yorkshireman just a little more time but with new Hibs owner Ron Gordon in town this week, the growing disconnect between fans and manager won’t have escaped the attention of the US-based businessman.

The disenchantment among the Hibs support is reflected in their poor ticket sales for the semi-final. Regardless of it being their seventh visit to Mount Florida in the last four and a half years, Heckingbottom’s observation that the fans are suffering from Hampden fatigue doesn’t wash.

It is his team’s performances they are tired of and he may need to conjure up something very special tonight if he hopes to avoid very quickly joining Levein on this season’s managerial casualty list.