Kenny McDowall relishing cauldron atmosphere of Sunday’s Old Firm clash with Celtic

Rangers coach Kenny McDowall
Rangers coach Kenny McDowall

Sunday will witness the game that Scottish Football has waited almost three years for – the return of the Old Firm derby.

One of the great fixtures in world football, fans will be treated to another instalment in the second Scottish League Cup Semi-Final at Hampden Park.

One of Scotland’s largest-ever television audiences will tune in to watch with 54 countries across the globe taking the live transmission, with an estimated audience of 129 million including the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Qatar, Hong Kong, Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

Rangers have not enjoyed the best of seasons as far as their Championship campaign is concerned – but League Cupup victories over Inverness Caledonian, St. Johnstone and Kilmarnock have demonstrated that they can compete with Premiership sides.

Victory on Sunday afternoon would transform the club’s season, and that of caretaker manager Kenny McDowall.

Rangers have not played a full 90 minutes for fully three weeks – since the laboured 1-0 win at Alloa on January 10.

McDowall has few injury worries ahead of his first Old Firm encounter – goalkeeper Cammy Bell remains unavailable, as he has for most of this season whilst Bilel Mohsni remains on international duty with Tunisia in the African Nations Cup.

Marius Zaliukas is back in training but unlikely to feature due to a lack of match fitness.

The Ibrox caretaker boss will surely adopt a cautious approach to the semi-final – possibly copying the tactic perfected by Walter Smith of flooding the midfield and hitting on the break.

With that in mind Ian Black may well return to the middle of the park at a venue where he ran the show in the 2012 Scottish Cup Final.

Kenny Miller is favourite to be the lone striker up front, having practised the role to near-perfection over the years.

As so often with this fixture, the opening goal could prove critical – but if Rangers are to upset the odds and win through then they must maintain their discipline and be clinical in front of goal.

The longer the game goes with the score-sheet blank then the more belief the Ibrox men will have.

McDowall certainly has the benefit of experience on his side, having worked for both clubs and experienced the cauldron that is an Old Firm clash under the experienced tutelage of Walter Smith, as he acknowledged.

“I’ve been involved in enough Old Firm games to know what’s at stake. It’s an unbelievable game to be involved in. I’ve never experienced anything like it in my life,” he said.

“The build-up to it lasts the whole week. You wouldn’t change it for the world.

“Walter Smith once told me that it wasn’t just about winning – it was about the fear of losing as well. I’m one of his students. Everybody involved will be nervous – it’s a long week. Ronny Deila will have been advised what to expect.

“I just hope that it’s remembered for the football – I want everyone to be talking about the game itself afterwards.”

Rangers undoubtedly go into this match as underdogs – the odds on a Light Blues success are as long as anyone can recall – but this is one game where the outcome can sometimes astonish and who is to say that this will not be one of those occasions.

The final word must surely rest with McDowall when asked what advice he had been offered by his mentor Smith. The answer was short and to the point.

“Just win it...”