Rangers manager Graeme Murty believes the upbeat reaction of his players to being drawn against Celtic in the Scottish Cup semi-finals is proof of their growing belief they can win silverware this season.
For the third year in a row, the Old Firm clubs will meet in the last four of the tournament. The draw took place at Ibrox shortly after Rangers defeated Falkirk 4-1 in their quarter-final, with Jason Cummings scoring the first hat-trick of his career.
The other semi-final will see Motherwell, 2-1 winners over Hearts yesterday, face the winners of the Kilmarnock-Aberdeen replay. The ties are at Hampden on 14 and 15 April.
Before then, Rangers face Celtic on Premiership business at Ibrox on Sunday, with Murty seeking a victory over Brendan Rodgers’ side which would reduce the gap between the teams at the top of the table to three points.
“We’ve a big game before the semi-final comes around,” said Murty. “But the sound that came out of our changing-room when we were drawn against Celtic was vast. The boys loved it. That shows the mood they’re in, the positivity that’s going through the changing-room and the upturn in our mindset that we’re relishing the challenge of pushing on and being better than we were.
“That’s a good sign for me and we need to make sure the games we have coming up between now and the end of the season remain meaningful. We don’t want to taper off and die, we want to accelerate to the end of the season, have a really good run.”
Murty has overseen two draws at Celtic Park during his caretaker spells as Rangers manager and how he fares against the dominant Scottish champions over the next few weeks will go a long way to determining whether he remains in permanent charge beyond the summer.
Rodgers has suggested the pressure is firmly on Murty on Sunday, given Rangers’ inconsistent form at Ibrox this season.
“I saw those comments,” said Murty with a smile. “Listen, we are always under pressure to perform at Ibrox. We have a very demanding clientele.
“Our fans are used to players of the highest standard playing at the highest level and we are striving to get back to a level that’s worthy of that. We’re not there yet but next week will be a measure of where we are on our journey.”
On-loan Nottingham Forest striker Cummings made the most of his promotion to the starting line-up yesterday, grabbing a hat-trick from a wide-left berth as he deputised for the injured Jamie Murphy. Murty rates Murphy’s chances of being fit in time for Sunday as “questionable” and Cummings is relishing the prospect of his Old Firm debut.
“It’s a game I cannot wait to be a part of,” said the 22-year-old who previously relished the Edinburgh derby occasions as a Hibs player with five goals against Hearts.
“You hear a lot of stories and all the history. It’s a massive occasion and I want to tell my grandchildren I played in a game like that.
“I feel it suits me when it’s a bigger occasion, I feel I come more alive.
“Of course, we don’t want to see Celtic winning trebles and winning all the time. We’re trying to put a bit more pressure on them and I feel like we are. We can just take it week by week and win every game we can and we’ll see what happens.”