In what was set up to be a memorable week for Rangers it could end up be a majorly disappointing one if they don’t lift the Scottish Cup. All the blood sweat and tears they have invested into this campaign comes down to this solitary game.
If anyone had suggested back in July that Rangers would end the season empty handed I’m not sure many would have taken them seriously.
The team had momentum after lifting the Scottish Premiership trophy last season; it was in a good place, they had a strong squad on paper and plenty of depth to cover for any possible injury setbacks.
Fast forward 10 months however and that’s exactly how it sits, because if Rangers don’t manage to overcome Hearts tomorrow at Hampden Park it will be the third time in the last four years they will not have a major trophy in their cabinet. That would represent a major disappointment from a season that promised so much.
In football you always learn about individuals and the spirit of a team in moments of adversity and hardship. That’s exactly where Rangers find themselves at the moment.
Wednesday night’s defeat on penalties against Eintracht Frankfurt late into the balmy Andalusian evening will have taken a lot out of the whole squad physically and mentally.
There’s no doubt there will be some weary bodies and players feeling a little bit sorry for them selves but they have to dig deep for one more huge game.
Football is ruthless and doesn’t care for emotions so they have work to do if theyre to overcome a stubborn Hearts side.
Deep down Hearts and Robbie Neilson wont care what’s happened to Rangers, they have their own agenda. They have their own eyes on the prize and will be hoping to capitalise if there’s any visible signs of fatigue from the Rangers players.
On the whole I actually think it’s the perfect game for Rangers to come back to due to the high profile nature of it.
Scottish Cup final day is always special and is the showpiece of the domestic season.
There will be a big crowd with an incredible atmosphere to go with it, which will help no end. Yes there is big pressure on Rangers to deliver, there is always is but because of what’s at stake and the emotional roller-coaster they’ve been on over the past few days the timing of it will give them the motivation and opportunity to put the disappointment of Wednesday night behind them.
From the manager's perspective I’m not sure there’s anything in particular that Giovanni van Bronckhorst can say to lift any player whose morale is low.
In moments like these the players have to find their own purpose that works for them.
The manager can give them reassurance but each individual reacts and prepares in different ways so Van Bronckhorst will put his trust in each individual players process to get them selves in the right frame of mind.
The Rangers fans will know the players will need them more than ever. They travelled on mass to Seville and will once again pack out the West enclosure at the national stadium and their support will play a crucial part if they are to win the Scottish Cup for the first time since 2009.
While this is all going on manager Neilson will be plotting his sides plan to upset the odds. They’ve had a brilliant season after getting promoted last summer.
A third place finish, which guarantees European football until Christmas and a potential Scottish Cup win equates to huge steps forward for the club. Neilson will be reaffirming to his players that they aren’t going to make up the numbers and be cannon fodder to Rangers, far from it. They will have the belief that they can beat rangers and will prey on any vulnerability they show. They have to start the game fast, keep the tempo high and test the resolve of the Rangers team to see if they crack.
Neilson will also be fully aware of a potential backlash from Rangers but rather than wait to see if
that’s the case I anticipate he’ll send his players out to get after them in the early stages.
With that all in mind it’s finely poised and has all the credentials to be a classic.
I think the need is greater for Van Bronckhorst than it is for Neilson because of expectations and demands however the want certainly won’t be.