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Rangers can look to '92 heroics for inspiration

Celtic v Rangers, Scottish Cup semi-final: Hampden Park, Sunday, Noon

By Julian Taylor

Hindsight is nearly always an irrelevance, but there is the temptation to select significant moments throughout Old Firm history in order to enhance prospects of upcoming triumph. This is Glasgow, after all, where everyone loves to pile in with a theory.

Rangers, in particular, have a greater need to understand what is achievable amid adversity. Celtic, on the other hand, really just need to turn up for tomorrow's Scottish Cup semi-final. So it goes, the perceived wisdom.

Yet one particular rain-lashed night at Hampden Park stands out in the context of the current chasm between the teams. It's hard to believe, but it really was 25 years ago when the Ibrox side displayed the sort of incredible character which will be required if they have any chance of derailing Brendan Rodgers' harmonious treble quest.

Countless vital clashes, of course, between the squabbling pair have come and gone. For Rangers, the evening of a 1-0 semi-final victory in 1992 remains a major chapter of the club's Cup narrative.

Down to 10 men following the controversial dismissal of David Robertson after just six minutes, a winner, swept home by the irrepressible Ally McCoist, epitomised the spirit chiselled by boss Walter Smith. It was to be the precursor to a treble the following season, a 44-match unbeaten run - and a scent from the Champions League final.

With an unbeaten domestic run stretching to 47 games, the Bhoys show no signs of diminishing hunger. Additionally, Ulsterman Rodgers' signature on a new four-year contract proves Celtic mean business. It scotched talk of a quick return to the Premier League after a single successful term in Scotland.

The widescreen picture is glowing at Parkhead. Nevertheless, Celtic must apply all their current desire, superior pace and professionalism to atone for Cup nightmares of fresh recollection.

Ronny Deila, Rodgers' predecessor, was denied by Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the 2015 semi-final and, last season, the Norwegian failed to lift his outfit as Rangers, under Mark Warburton, reached the final on penalties after an impressive performance. That spring day was Warburton's high water mark, as the Gers subsequently crashed in the final against Hibernian before this plodding Premiership campaign.

If the Light Blues do succeed tomorrow it will be a more heralded victory than that night in 1992, principally because of the still existent gulf.

Rangers are still finding direction. Their new head coach of vast unknown quantity, Pedro Caixinha, is using this period between now and the end of the season to decide which players he feels possess the application and disposition to go the long distance - and who is to be let go.

On Celtic, intriguingly, Caixinha said: "All teams have weaknesses. The only question is can you identify them? Can you get your team to expose them and then exploit them?"

Even though the Portuguese inherited an insecure team lolling around, there does come a time when a challenge needs to be, somehow, extracted from the collective. Already, the Light Blues are playing more directly. And how the new Ibrox coach copes with the utter brutalism of this meeting is sure to fascinate.

Ex-Rangers captain Barry Ferguson said: "It will be an unbelievable experience for him, he has to go and enjoy it."

Speed, excitement and superb technique - all etched straight from the ever-present Rodgers notepad - is in abundance at Celtic, but Rangers showed only last month they can cause difficulty.

Caixinha watched as caretaker Graeme Murty's side claimed a 1-1 draw at Parkhead. It was a decent showing and Clint Hill, who may recover from injury in time for tomorrow, netted a late leveller. It's not for Rangers to "celebrate draws" as the veteran defender admitted; however, for a squad desperate to believe they can stop Celtic, indications are, perhaps, reasonable.

The Scottish champions offer danger from all quarters, as the adaptability of several players, like Kieran Tierney, has already been proven under meticulous Rodgers.

Celtic's pace on the left will specifically concern Caixinha. Marauding wing-back Tierney and Scott Sinclair - the best player in Scotland this season - shine with innate understanding.

James Tavernier will be employed to stop Tierney on the right side of midfield. Lee Hodson must attempt to quash Sinclair's drive. The Northern Ireland international is calm, reliable and he bears real responsibility.

Celts have Scott Brown available following a reckless red card last week at Ross County. So used to these battles, it will be intriguing to see how the captain fares against Rangers' loan midfield duo, Jon Toral and Emerson Hyndman. The former is a box-to-box operator and the latter is demonstrably fleet-of-foot.

Kenny Miller remains Rangers' chief source of grabbing a goal in an Old Firm encounter. Will Caixinha play the 38-year-old through the middle with perhaps Martyn Waghorn supporting? Chances are likely to be at a premium at Hampden for the usually clinical Miller.

Hill is sure to experience more attrition at the other end, and the enforcer, along with Danny Wilson, improved under Caixinha, have the unenviable task of restricting free-scoring Moussa Dembele.

Assuming Sinclair is the breeziest performer, then Stuart Armstrong is Celtic's most improved. The winger has added work rate and precision to an admirable, languid style and is very capable of hurting Rangers.

The treble in sight, these are fine times for Rodgers. Rangers, equally, need inspiration - just like all those years ago.

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