As he made the walk from halfway line to penalty spot to take the first kick of Sunday’s dramatic penalty shoot-out at Hampden, Andy Halliday was a picture of serenity.
It was a remarkable example of keeping a cool head amid the bedlam of a tumultuous Old Firm occasion, especially as it came from a boyhood Rangers supporter making his debut in the fixture.
But, as Halliday duly slotted his penalty beyond Craig Gordon to lay the platform for his team’s Scottish Cup semi-final triumph, it was simply the completion of a composed and influential all-round contribution from the midfielder which began even before kick-off. For, as the teams engaged in the ritual pre-match handshake procession, Halliday found himself being stared down by Celtic captain Scott Brown.
It was a trademark piercing gaze from Brown, one which has unsettled many opponents in the past, but it left Halliday utterly unfazed and set the tone for a performance which saw the 24-year-old dominate his more experienced rival on the pitch.
“Maybe he was trying to get into my head but it wasn’t going to happen,” said Halliday about the pre-match exchange.
“Listen, you see it every sport. Cricket is supposed to be a gentleman’s game, but you see and hear the sledging that goes on. It’s going to happen on any big sporting stage.
“Scott Brown is the captain of the national team, he has had a wonderful career and he is obviously a big player for Celtic. But I was just happy we did what we did and concentrated on ourselves. That was the reason we got the result.
“We have had a stamp on our play from day one this season. It’s what we are good at and where our strengths are. We certainly didn’t want to turn the game into a battle but, at the same time, we had to stand up and be counted to a man.
“I am proud of the boys in the way we stayed very composed throughout. Even if you watched Old Firm games in the past, there are arguably better Rangers squads than we have got just now and arguably better players. But I don’t think there have been many performances as composed as that in Old Firm games or as easy on the eye. For long spells, I thought we completely dominated game.
“I was surprisingly calm when it came to the penalties. I was actually a lot more nervous the previous week with the penalty against Peterhead in the Petrofac Cup final. I know that sounds silly, being 2-0 up as we were when I took my penalty in that game, but I was desperate to score in that final.
“I managed to control my emotions pretty well against Celtic and that carried on to the penalties. I was lot more nervous watching the rest of them being taken, that’s for sure. We prepared the day before and decided the one to 11 for penalties, which would obviously change depending who was on the park.
“I made sure I put my hand up to go first because it is important to step up and get the ball rolling. I was happy to take that on my shoulders.
“We missed two before Celtic missed two and when Nicky Clark had our second miss, I did think it might slip away from us. But I was also always confident in the ability of Wes Foderingham to save a penalty.
“We were aware before the game that quite a lot of people had written us off but that has happened a few times this season. A lot of questions were asked after we lost to St Johnstone in the League Cup about whether our style of play could cope in the Premiership. Not that many people fancied us going into the Scottish Cup quarter-final against Dundee, or even going into the league game against Hibs at Ibrox in December after we had that mini-blip in terms of results.
“So we have answered a lot of questions and none more so than on Sunday. Of course Celtic were going into the game as favourites. They are top of the Premiership and obviously a good team. But we were certainly confident enough in our own ability. We feel that, if we play to our strengths, then we are a hard team to stop. It was an outstanding day on Sunday, probably the best of my career.”
It has turned tonight’s Championship fixture against Hibs at Easter Road into a Scottish Cup final rehearsal for Rangers.
“It just shows you the standard of the Championship this year,” added Halliday. “People have said whatever they like about it but we know Hibs are a good team. They got to the League Cup final, they are going for promotion and they have got to the Scottish Cup final.
“Hibs haven’t got anywhere near enough credit as they should have this year, they have had a fantastic season. We have pipped them to the league and managed to win it with a few games to spare but I don’t think the season and Wednesday is a marker going into the Scottish Cup final.
“It is a one-off cup game, it is a massive occasion and you see cup shocks all over the world. We are going to go in as favourites, and rightly so after winning the league, but Hibs are a very good team and anything can happen on the day. There is a massive prize at stake.
“When we won the league we said it was a good season. Going into the Petrofac final, we said it is the difference between a good season and a great season. Going into the Celtic game we said it was the difference between a great season and a magnificent season.
“So if we go on to win the Scottish Cup and get into Europe, it is a perfect season. It can’t get much better than that.”