AMID the optimism that is blossoming among Rangers supporters that they are finally set to land their great rivals Celtic a bloody nose for the first time on league duty since 2012, the one thing that may ground them is the thought of things not going their way at Ibrox this afternoon.

Should Celtic win, they will have wrapped up the Premiership title in all but name, and if Brendan Rodgers’ men do prevail, it would surely spark the equivalent of a title party in the Broomloan Road Stand.

Rangers supporters will have no desire to entertain such a notion, and their former captain, Lee McCulloch, is hoping the Ibrox side can spark a genuine title race by sealing a league win over Celtic for the first time in six years.

He was the captain on that day, when a win for Neil Lennon’s Celtic side would have mathematically clinched the league title. Although the race for a flag was a foregone conclusion in any case, McCulloch recalls the determination within the squad that it was not going to end on that day, and not on their own patch.

He says Graeme Murty’s side must now show the same determination to make sure Ibrox this afternoon is not the happy hunting ground it has become of late for the visitors.

“There was just no way we were going to allow Celtic to win the league at Ibrox that day,” McCulloch said. “That day was something else, what an experience and what an atmosphere, especially before the game and at 3-0.

“I got man-of-the-match in that game. I started playing up front with Sone Aluko, who got the first goal, then I went to centre midfield, and towards the end I went to centre-half. Three positions in an Old Firm game, unbelievable.

“This time, I wouldn’t go as far as to say the league is over if Celtic win, but Rangers will need to go into it with a similar mindset to ours that day, and they have to get something from the game in my opinion.

“With Graeme Murty being in charge, he has brought an expectation level, and he has raised the standards of the club and the team. He’s made some really good signings. For the first time in a while, the Rangers fans are going into this game expecting a win.

“I think it’s good that Graeme has brought the confidence back to the players, and has given the fans something to shout about, but that will all fall flat if they can’t get a result today. It’s the best chance Rangers have had for a wee while.”

McCulloch believes the rediscovery of Rangers’ identity has been key to their resurgence of late under Graeme Murty’s charge, and that solid spine he has forged in the team will help them measure up to what is expected of them on such an occasion.

“It’s similar to what Walter did in 2007, bringing a few Scottish boys in,” he said. “I think the British boys will help them on Sunday.

“There is always a responsibility when you play with the Old Firm, whether that is in an Old Firm game or any other game, to give every single ounce of energy and effort you have got to win that game. It doesn’t matter if the game is against the team that is bottom of the league or your biggest rivals, and I think that is something that a lot of people had gotten away from at Rangers.

“When you play with Rangers or Celtic there is also a responsibility on you both on and off the park to behave in a certain manner, and you just have to handle that. Hopefully all of the players will be able to do that.”

While McCulloch will settle down at home to watch the game this afternoon rooting for a Rangers win, he admits his own optimism is tempered by a realisation of the task that faces them in the green and white.

And he is even looking forward to seeing one of those players, who he knows so well having been his manager at Kilmarnock, flourishing on the big stage.

“I don’t think you can ever underestimate Brendan Rodgers and the team that he has got,” he said. “I find it staggering that he has even been questioned of late and the expectation levels around them has dropped just because they have drawn or lost one or two games. It’s unbelievable, because what they have achieved is phenomenal. You can’t write off a Celtic team that has been flying high for the past year and a half.

“They’ve got big Kris Ajer there who I worked with at Kilmarnock, and he was absolutely brilliant. Hopefully he plays and gets his first taste of an Old Firm game. I’ve kept in touch with him, and hopefully he comes through unscathed and has a game to remember.

“I’m really looking forward to the game. Rangers have scored a lot of goals recently, and it is two teams who will attack from the off. It’s set up to be a great match.”

McCulloch is now back in Scotland after a short but memorable stint in Poland as assistant manager to former Rangers coach Adam Owen at Legia Gdansk. He may only have been there for seven weeks before Owen lost his job, but the experience has left an indelible mark on him as he returns refreshed to ponder his next move in the game.

“I loved it over there, what a place,” he said. “We stayed right on the beach, and I couldn’t say enough good things about it. The stadiums, the size of the league, the ability of some of the players, it was unreal.

“We had a player who went to Juventus from CSKA Moscow for €15 million, Milos Krasic, so there are some big-name players and a lot of money over there as well.

“I'm now going to take a little bit of time and not rush into anything. I enjoyed being an assistant to a really good manager, but I wouldn’t rule out management again. I probably won’t go straight back into being a manager, I really enjoyed that spell as a number two again, but we’ll see what the future brings.

“I just want to keep learning and improving my knowledge, and then hopefully when the right opportunity comes up, I’ll be ready for it.”