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 Dubliner 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.
“It’s a one-off game and we are just looking forward to it now. People have missed it, so I think it will be something special.”
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 before Lukasz Zaluska made injury-time saves from Billy McKay and Tremarco.
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