Emotional season opener as Rangers host Hearts

Rangers' David Templeton
Rangers' David Templeton

Sunday afternoon will be an occasion for nostalgia and sentiment as Rangers host Hearts in the opening Championship fixture of the new campaign.

Prior to kick-off the League One flag from last season will be unfurled – but of greater significance to the Light Blue legions will surely be the renaming of the Govan Stand as the Sandy Jardine Stand in memory of the legendary Ranger who tragically passed away in April at the age of just 65.

It is appropriate that the two clubs participating in the opener on Sunday will be Rangers and Hearts - the two clubs to whom Jardine gave such distinguished service during a career that lasted more than twenty years, encompassing more than 1,000 games.

Sunday’s opener could scarcely be any more challenging for the Light Blues – the ‘Gorgie’ men are expected to be one of the main challengers in this crucial campaign.

Tuesday’s Challenge Cup-tie over Hibernian may have ended in victory after extra-time – but the Ibrox men’s performance drew criticism from many quarters, although the two hours were certainly an engrossing, end-to-end encounter.

Arnold Peralta has now returned from Paris following his visa problems but is unlikely to feature due to a lack of match fitness. Jon Daly remains unavailable through injury and Bilel Mohsni is suspended – but one definite bonus for Ally McCoist is the return to competitive action of youngster Lewis MacLeod who played a key role in Rangers’ victory on Tuesday, having suffered so much for so long through illness and injury last season.

Robbie Neilson’s Hearts will certainly provide formidable opposition – a young side severely handicapped by a 15-point penalty last season that ultimately proved too great a handicap.

The closing weeks of the campaign saw a vast improvement in the Tynecastle side’s results – form that if carried into the Championship will provide Rangers with a real challenge both on Sunday and in the weeks and months ahead.

Neilson has certainly stirred things up ahead of his side’s visit to Ibrox – his statement that training had consisted of practising playing with 10 men because someone always gets red-carded at Ibrox will have angered many and will assure the new Hearts manager of a raucous welcome, but Ally McCoist has taken the quotes in good spirit, dismissing them as mind games.

McCoist is unlikely to make many – if any – changes to the starting 11 from midweek – but the Rangers manager was spot-on when he identified the turning-point of Tuesday’s cup-tie as the introduction of substitute David Templeton, as the winger’s team-mate Lee Wallace underlined.

“When we brought Temps on the other night he lit the place up and he’s a special player,” he said.

“We want moments like that from him but on a more consistent level because if he finds that in his game he’ll be one of the most important players here.

“He’s a player who can see us through what is going to be a tough season. We all know what he can do. It’s unfortunate for him his best form has just been in spurts but if he finds the consistency he’s looking for there’s absolutely no reason why he can’t go on to be a top player here.

“He can make all the difference if he can produce moments of magic like he did when he came on against Hibs.”

The likelihood for the visit of Hearts however is that if McCoist retains his 3-5-2 formation then Templeton will start the game on the substitute’s bench again, but he could well make a decisive impact as he did last Tuesday.