Glasgow faces three months of hype over the first Old Firm derby since Rangers went into liquidation but Celtic striker Anthony Stokes knows they have to play the game and not the occasion when the Scottish League Cup semi-final comes around.
Celtic and Rangers were paired together in the last four – after Aberdeen and Dundee United came out of the hat first – to set up the first meeting between the two teams since April 2012, which came months before the Ibrox club were consigned to liquidation.
The re-formed Rangers had so far avoided Celtic in cup competitions but both sets of players were apparently cheering when the draw unfolded just after 5pm on Saturday.
However, Stokes knows that players cannot get too caught up in the emotion of the occasion, although he accepts that his words of advice to the players who have not experienced the game cannot prepare them for what is in store on the weekend of January 31 and February 1.
The Irishman was booked 70 seconds into his Old Firm debut in October 2010 for a terrible tackle on Sasa Papac that would probably have earned a red card if it had not come so early in proceedings, which culminated in a 3-1 win for Rangers.
Stokes said: “I think you have to play in it (to understand it). I remember myself first time I played in an Old Firm game, I was too wound up going in to the game and was probably more worried about the fixture than actually playing the game.”
When asked what reaction the draw sparked in the dressing room after Celtic’s 1-0 win over Inverness, Stokes said: “There were a few cheers. I think it’s the draw everyone wanted, the fans and ourselves.
“I think everyone misses the rivalry. I’ve said it before, when Rangers are back in the top flight it will bring more competition and will be better for all the clubs, not just ourselves.
“It’s a one-off game and we are just looking forward to it now.
“There has probably been a build-up for the last couple of years and people have missed it, so I think it will be something special on the day.”
Celtic have begun to get the consistency that was absent in Ronny Deila’s first months in charge and against Inverness John Guidetti’s ninth goal in seven games earned them a fifth consecutive win.
But they had to survive a late onslaught with Carl Tremarco and Greg Tansey hitting two good chances over the bar before Lukasz Zaluska made injury-time saves from Billy McKay and Tremarco.
Stokes said: “I think we’re steadily improving although this game was a bit more of a grind. First half we dominated but second half we relied on Lukasz. He was outstanding and kept us in the game.
“But it’s been a hard 10 days, we’ve had four games.”
Inverness boss John Hughes set up his side to defend deep and in numbers and the plan worked until the 49th minute when they were caught on the break, although the visiting players were adamant that Scott Brown had fouled Danny Williams to win possession.
Hughes brought on Ryan Christie, Aaron Doran and McKay to hunt for an equaliser and they had other chances on top of the four late opportunities.
Hughes said: “The last 20 minutes when we made the substitutes and Celtic were on the rack, and we could have taken something out of the game.
“We’re a good side and we proved that. The game plan was to make those substitutions and it just about worked for us. The only thing we never did is get the ball over the line.”
Meanwhile, Deila confirmed that Celtic would still appeal against Aleksandar Tonev’s seven-match ban for using insulting language of a racist nature against Aberdeen full-back Shay Logan, despite not submitting the documents to the Scottish Football Association in time to allow the winger to face Inverness.
Deila added: “I’m very sorry for him and we are going to support him. It’s word against word and I believe him.
“He is very, very depressed. He believes in his innocence and it’s very hard on him. We are supporting him because this is not right.”