Chris Jack

THE old saying about how you have to win the battle before you can win the war is as appropriate and fitting as ever in Scottish football.

Connor Goldson has learned about it quickly since moving to Ibrox. It is an approach he doesn’t necessarily agree with, but one he is willing to buy into if that is what it takes for Rangers to be successful.

Rangers have struggled at times, most recently at Tynecastle last month, when games are tousy and attritional affairs. Against Hearts at Hampden, however, their quality shone brighter than the Jambos’ workrate and a Betfred Cup final berth was secured with relative ease thanks to a Filip Helander strike and brace from Alfredo Morelos.

Steven Gerrard’s side weren’t at their most impressive, but they didn’t need to be at their best to see off Hearts as interim boss Austin MacPhee saw his team outplayed and outclassed.

Hearts still made their presence felt at times, though. Steven MacLean was booked for an elbow on Goldson and he paid the price for a needless slide towards keeper Allan McGregor as MacPhee substituted him before he saw red.

Rangers were able to match Hearts’ work ethic and rise above them with the standard of their play. That made it a satisfying afternoon for Goldson.

He said: “I took a couple of sore ones and his game plan was obviously to try and rough us up and be a bit aggressive but there’s a difference between being aggressive and going over the top and it showed with him getting taken off so early.

“If he hadn’t already been on a yellow card then he’d have been booked for his next foul but the referee said he didn’t want to ruin a semi-final by sending him off for something so silly. He caught me inside a minute but it’s the same every week. The same happened at Ross County where the boy did the exact same thing.

“If they think that’s going to affect us and rough us up then that’s up to them but realistically it’s not going to affect us.

“We let it carry on and played our own game. We wore them down in the end because they’re a tough team to break down and defend well, especially crosses, but we kept playing at our intensity and tempo and it paid off.

“Against Aberdeen in the semi-final last season it was similar. We were camped in their half and had half chances dropping to us but we didn’t take them.

“I felt after the first goal the tension released out of us, especially the boys who were here last season, and we went on and executed our game plan very well.”

Gerrard had urged his players to use the memories of that defeat to the Dons in a positive way heading into the Hearts game and the emotions this time around were far different for the Ibrox squad.

It is eight years since Rangers last won major silverware as Celtic were beaten in the League Cup final.

The wait has been an agonising one for supporters. For the current group of players, the opportunity ahead is a hugely exciting and significant one as Rangers look to add a silver lining this term.

Goldson said: “It feels brilliant to be in a final. Since I’ve been here I’ve always wanted to pick up silverware at this club and we’re one step closer than last year.

“An Old Firm cup final will be interesting. I was a Liverpool fan growing up but never went to any finals and haven’t played in one either so it will be a good occasion for myself and my family.

“Both teams will be up for it and want to win the game but we’ll park that to the back of our heads with two tough fixtures before the international break and more after it. We’re improving and we’ve said all season we’re getting better. We’ve had a few iffy moments and bad performances but overall the first three months of the season couldn’t have gone much better.

“But we need to carry that on and can’t get ahead of ourselves. It’s still so early in the league and we’ve got a cup final and in with a chance in the Europa League so we need to keep putting in performances and winning games but the level of our team has improved.

“When you play for Rangers the games come thick and fast and you can’t let the highs get too high or the lows get too low because within three days another big game comes along.

“Every game at this football club is a big game regardless of whether it’s a semi-final or last week’s game away to Ross County. We’re always expected to win and we need to win games of football so we move on and get straight back in to get ready for Porto.”

The challenge of Porto is a very different one to Hearts but it is an encounter Rangers will head into with confidence at Ibrox.

A 1-1 draw in Portugal a fortnight ago has given Gerrard’s side a chance of qualifying from Group G.

The performance in the Estadio do Dragao was one of the best of the season as an Alfredo Morelos strike earned a point. Now, it has to be repeated on home soil this week.

Goldson said: “We need to just keep churning out results and it starts on Thursday, we have a big game against Porto and then Livingston before the break.

“I think we played really well out there but at the same time we know they are a top side and even though we have had one good performance, we can’t go into that game thinking it will be the exact same again. We need to go into that game with confidence but at the same time with respect to them and try and stamp our authority on the game.”