The last major trophy of the season will be handed out on Saturday afternoon, after Rangers and Hearts battle it out to see whose name is etched on the Scottish Cup.
The sides meet at Hampden after both enjoying success this season but without any silverware to show for it yet.
For Rangers, the final comes just days after their agonising defeat on penalties to Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League final in Seville and lifting the Scottish Cup for the first time since 2009.
Hearts go into the match having secured third place in the Premiership on their return to the top flight, and looking to send their supporters into the summer with the best finale to the season they could hope for.
Both sides won dramatic semi-finals against their local rivals to get to the final, with Hearts beating Hibs 2-1 to book a return to Hampden and Rangers defeating Celtic by the same scoreline after extra time.
Only one side can take the final step and lift the silverware.
Rangers aim to bounce back
Rangers manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst has backed his side to put their disappointment behind them and believes they’ll be ready at kick-off and have Hearts in their sights.
“I have a lot of confidence in my team and their ability to regroup and recover from big games,” he said.
“The final was a big game for us and we didn’t get the outcome we wanted, but overall it was a good experience for my team to play in such a big game.
“When you are in finals and you come so far and are very close to achieving silverware, the disappointment will be very big.
“But we have another very important game tomorrow that can mean we win silverware this season. That is our focus now and I have full confidence my team will be ready when the whistle goes.”
The Ibrox club will be without Borna Barisic after he was injured in Seville but the rest of the Europa League squad is fit for the final. The other expected change is in goal, where number one Allan McGregor will step aside for Jon McLaughlin, who has played every other Scottish Cup game this season.
Hearts’ journey continues
Hearts’ only definite injury absence is Beni Baningime, out long term with a knee injury, but a number of other players have only just returned to fitness and manager Robbie Neilson has some decisions to make on sharpness. A bounce game arranged for midweek will have helped him make his choices for a game that is a mark of how far the side have come.
Last year’s Scottish Cup campaign saw Hearts suffer a shock defeat to Highland League champions Brora Rangers, sparking fury from fans and a league defeat to Queen of the South days later further soured the mood.
Hearts sporting director Joe Savage believes that spell was a significant point in the team’s development.
“Those defeats allowed us to reset and strip it back and say, ‘what do we need to do?’ It became a blessing in a weird way,” he said.
“We didn’t want that result in the Scottish Cup to happen, it was very embarrassing for us, but it allowed us to hit the reset button and Robbie changed the tactics, style of play and flipped it on its head.
“Fast forward a year. We’re in the Scottish Cup final, we’ve finished third in the league and we’re in Europe for the first time in six years.
“I’m so proud I’ve been part of this journey.”
Arfield expects tough challenge
The league matches between the teams this season have seen Rangers win three games, with the other a draw.
Despite that, Rangers attacking midfielder Scott Arfield says his side are very aware of the threat their opponents can pose.
“It’s a one-off game and, whatever has gone before and the games we have had previously with them, it will have no bearing on this,” he said.
“We played them last week and they had three or four first-team players out, as did we. So I think it will be a different game at Hampden.
“As I’ve said, they’ve had a fantastic season getting to a cup final and finishing third by some distance.
“They are in our thoughts. We have done our analysis on them all season and we will give them the respect they definitely deserve.
“The have a great management team, good players, can score, so we know it is going to be difficult.
“But, as always, we feel as though we can win any game and this one is no different.”
Win would be reward for Robbie Neilson
Experienced goalkeeper Craig Gordon was a Scottish Cup winner with Hearts back in 2006, as part of the same side that featured current Hearts boss Neilson.
The club captain says a Hampden triumph this time would be deserved for someone who has grown to be a real figurehead as manager.
“Robbie’s done a tremendous job to stabilise everything and really push the standards of this club forward again and getting us back to where we should be,” said Gordon.
“He’s done it so quickly so he deserves huge credit for the turnaround we’ve had. We’re not finished there. We want to keep pushing those standards further.
“Robbie’s had some rough patches and he’s come through all of them. To be sitting here in the week of a cup final having finished in third place, it shows how far we’ve come as a group.
“He’s been at the head of it all since he came back here. He knew it was going to be challenging at times but he’s faced every challenge and managed to improve the team along the way.
“I’m sure he’s got big ambitions for next season but for him to win the cup would be a good reward for what he’s already managed to achieve in his first couple of years back here.”
Both sides have sold out their ticket allocation, meaning there’s a terrific atmosphere guaranteed inside Hampden when the action starts. Extra time and penalties could be needed if there’s no winner within 90 minutes but by Saturday evening one team will have their hands on the trophy and the celebrations will have begun.
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