It is cup semi-final weekend in Scotland too and for Rangers it is the last-chance saloon as they bid to inflict some form of wound on Brendan Rodgers’ imperious first season at Celtic.
Pedro Caixinha watched from the stands as then-caretaker boss Graeme Murty led the team to an unlikely late draw at Parkhead last month in the league in his last game in charge, but that was a superficial mark on Celtic, at best.
If Rangers are hoping to lay down any sort of marker for next season – or indeed salvage something from this one – they simply must come out on top at Hampden Park on Sunday.
Rangers are 27/4 to win in 90 minutes, clearly showing they’ve got a sizeable task ahead, but do they deserve to be such underdogs?
Since suffering a one-sided 5-1 loss at Parkhead in September there have been three more Glasgow derbies. Celtic scored late on at Hampden to win the League Cup semi-final 1-0 in October while on New Year’s Eve it took Scott Sinclair’s strike in the final quarter to give the Hoops a come-from-behind 2-1 win at Ibrox. The aforementioned 1-1 draw last month showed Rangers are capable of hanging tough in these games.
Moreover, in five games since their last clash, Caixinha’s side have had their goal breached just once, winning three times. This ought to be another close encounter, though it would be hard to discourage ‘Gers supporters from a speculative punt on their side qualifying for the final.
Celtic have been boosted with their appeal of Scott Brown’s red card at Ross County last weekend, ensuring their captain is now free to play at Hampden. The Hoops are 5/13 to win this one and, given how they’ve steamrollered all before them domestically so far, this is probably going to be the biggest one-off test Rodgers will have faced in Scotland in his maiden season.
Defeat now, to their bitter rivals, would remove a significant layer of gloss from Celtic’s season.
By the time the Glasgow sides meet, either Aberdeen or cup holders Hibernian will be waiting for them. Neil Lennon’s men secured their top-flight return last week and they must guard against a Hampden flop on the back of that achievement.
Lennon knows a thing or two about winning this competition from his time at Celtic but he’ll also be fully aware his second-tier side are facing the team that has consistently pushed his old club hardest in recent times.
Hibs are 11/4 to make it into the Hampden showpiece but it’s hard to get away from Aberdeen.
The Dons were beaten 3-0 by Rangers at Pittodrie recently in their one blip of late, but even that was a game they really should have got a win from, given the upper hand they held for long spells.
At 20/21, Derek McInnes’ side represent the value bet from the last four clubs standing in the Scottish Cup to make progress into their second domestic cup final of the season.
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