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Rangers boss believes gap is closing on Celtic ahead of Hampden showdown

Since Beale took over as Gers boss in November he has won 13 and drawn one of his 14 games in charge.

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 02: Rangers' James Tavernier tackles Celtic's Reo Hatate during a cinch Premiership match between Rangers and Celtic at Ibrox Stadium, on January 02, 2023, in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Alan Harvey/SNS Group via Getty Images)© SNS Group via Getty Images

LIVINGSTON, SCOTLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Michael Beale before a cinch Premiership match between Livingston and Rangers at the Tony Macaroni Arena, on February 18, 2023, in Livingston, Scotland. (Photo by Craig Foy/SNS Group via Getty Images)© SNS Group via Getty Images

Kevin PalmerSunday World

RANGERS manager Michael Beale has sounded the rallying cry ahead of today’s Hampden Park showdown with Celtic after warning his team that defeat is unthinkable.

Since Beale took over as Gers boss in November he has won 13 and drawn one of his 14 games in charge but still the Light Blues remain nine points behind the Hoops at the top of the Scottish Premiership.

The former QPR manager, who was assistant coach to Steven Gerrard during his time in the Rangers hot seat, has his first chance to win silverware as manager against Ange Postecoglou’s relentless reigning champions.

And he will tell his players that today’s League Cup Final is a game that has to be won.

“No-one that works in Glasgow enjoys coming second. Second is last,” he declared.

“I feel like I know this environment after the three and half years here.

“I’m very comfortable with it. I deal with just trying to be honest and transparent all the time.

“I try to give the fans the honesty they want. All football clubs could do that a little bit more.”

“We want to win the League Cup, we want to win all the cups in front of us, but that is not ultimately why I am here,” added Beale.

“I am here to win the league and we are behind in that.

“Our form has been very good, their form has been very good as well so we have not been able to cut the points gap.

“There is still lots of football to be played.

“Of course we want to win the League Cup but there is bigger things in my mind after that and it is part of ticking a box in terms of where I ultimately want to take us.” Meanwhile, Rangers striker Ally McCoist has reflected on the greatest moment of his goal-laden career, as he spoke exclusively to the Sunday World.

McCoist won trophies galore during his time as Rangers lead striker, but it was a 1984 League Cup Final that stands out in his mind.

“It was my first domestic Cup Final and we beat Celtic 3-2 after extra time,” he recalled.

“I managed to get a hat-trick in that game to win it, but that only tells half of the story.

“The only reason the game went into extra time was because of my mistakes, as I gave away a penalty in the final minutes.

“You do something like that in a massive match and your heart sinks. That is a moment you could be remembered for, the one mistake that could come back to haunt you forever more.

“So when I managed to get the winner in extra time and make sure that penalty incident would not be my abiding memory from that game, it highlights why it meant so much.

“I was fortunate to win a lot in my career, but that first medal and the feeling it gives you is unbeatable.

“Until you do it and lift that cup, you always have doubts about whether you will be good enough be part of a successful Rangers team, but one win leads to another and that was very much the case for us as a team.

“You might say a League Cup win is not the most significant victory you could have on a CV, but it means a lot to me and every trophy I won has a special memory attached.”

Meanwhile, former Celtic boss Neil Lennon has suggested the enormity of the moment at Hampden Park provides the biggest test for the two sets of players today.

“It’s about playing the game, not the occasion,” said Lennon, who won 10 major honours as Celtic boss.

“In a cup final of this magnitude, form isn’t important because it’s all about the moment.

“In 2019, we were in brilliant form going into the final against Rangers, and we didn’t turn up. We had to rely on Fraser Forster to keep us in the game for long periods.

“We got Edouard on and that got us a foothold, but until then we were poor having been in brilliant form.

“We won the semi-final against Hibs, and beat Lazio away, but for whatever reason the players weren’t themselves and that can happen in a final.”

Celtic have won six of the last eight League Cup finals, including a 1-0 triumph over Rangers in 2019.

The Old Firm rivals have played each other in 15 League Cup finals, with Rangers winning nine and Celtic six.

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