JOHN RANKIN watched Gary Mackay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong seal dream moves to Celtic this week – and is now challenging the next breed of emerging stars to make the Dundee United fans forget all about the departed duo.
Rankin is a huge fan of the new Parkhead pair, who both left Tannadice before the close of the transfer window in a bargain £2m deal.
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Jackie McNamara’s side have their first taste of business without the old fans’ favourites when they head to Stair Park to take on Stranraer in today’s televised Scottish Cup fifth round tie, bidding to get back to the final and make amends for losing 2-0 to St Johnstone back in May.
And midfielder Rankin reckons it’s the ideal opportunity for rising talents such as Charlie Telfer and Aidan Connolly to assume the mantle at the Tayside club, who continue to fight on all three domestic fronts.
Rankin said: “The boys came in on Tuesday and said their goodbyes [before leaving for Celtic] and it was good getting that done and out the way early in the week, because it lets us focus on the game.
“No one can question their attitude with us.
“Even when Gary signed a pre-contract with Celtic, not for a second can a fan question what he’s done for us over the past four or five weeks.
“The young boys have shown us they have the ability to play at this level. They now need to show they have the consistency to do it week in, week out.
“There’s no bigger gauntlet thrown down to them than to go out and replace two Scotland-standard players.
“The likes of Aidan Connolly has come in in Gary’s position. Now he needs to maintain the hunger himself, rather than someone giving him it.”
Rankin is the only survivor from the last time the Tangerines travelled to Stranraer in the Scottish Cup, back in 2012 when they came away with a resounding 5-0 victory.
The 31-year-old midfield man insisted they had to roll their sleeves up on that occasion and knows they’ll have to show similar levels of professionalism to make it through to the quarter-final this time round.
Rankin said: “The attitude the last time we were there was spot on. We went out and treated it like a proper cup tie and we got our reward with a tie against Rangers.
“We put a right good run together that year and faced Celtic in the semi-final.
“We’re looking to do the same again this year, but you have to face the team that’s in front of you and it’s Stranraer.
“We’ll treat them with the utmost respect because they deserve it.”