As we secretly sit gorging ourselves on our children's Halloween sweeties (or is that just me?), it's safe to say Rangers' efforts this season have been soothing rather than scary.
Just the two defeats by the start of November is decent going by anyone's expectations given we've already played 24 times, including 11 times in the Europa League. Domestically we're also ten points better off than this time last season so it's fair to say we travel the short distance to Hampden with a fair degree of merited confidence.
Despite the decent record above, ironically our form remains fairly inconsistent and, as much as we've looked very good in some games, we've been just as poor in others. At home we look particularly comfortable but less so away and with a less than impressive record at the national stadium in recent years.
Nevertheless, despite some disappointments this season, the team does look more focused and certainly appears to have more character than previously. Securing positive results against Motherwell, Killie and Porto amongst others shows the team do believe in themselves during adversity and such belief will be vital if we're to secure some much needed silverware.
Our first opportunity to do this will be in the League Cup and, after going out at the semi-final stage last season against Aberdeen, the manager will be keen to reverse that result this year against Hearts. Yet, we need only look back a fortnight to see the Edinburgh side won't roll over despite their poor form in the Ladbrokes Premiership.
In terms of the Rangers team, a very positive performance and result in Dingwall in midweek means Steven Gerrard will have the headache of having to pick an XI from a squad that are now making the manager's job very difficult given most are contributing to a high level. A few knocks aside to McGregor, Barisic, Barker and Kent, only Jordan Jones remains unavailable longer term and that large squad will be important as the schedule ramps up ahead of the winter break in January.
Recent games has seen a first choice back four emerge with Filip Helander showing his pedigree alongside Connor Goldson. However, with Hearts physical presence up front key to how they play, Niko Katic may well resume his aerial battles with Uche Ikpeazu. The aforementioned Borna Barisic is now a clear first choice at left back and, although the captain has struggled this season at times, Tavernier will skipper the side as usual from right back on Sunday.
The rest of the XI is harder to predict. Ryan Jack and Steven Davis will definitely start if fully fit and both have had excellent campaigns with the former badly missed against Hearts recently. Beside them will be one of Glen Kamara, Joe Aribo and Scott Arfield depending on how the manager wants to set his team up. Kamara will add guile and strength against a Hearts midfield that will work hard to press physically and force us into more direct play. Aribo, or a deeper Arfield, may be less effective if the Jambo's system is similar to what they used a week past Sunday but if we're to create chances and space then one may well be preferred.
Further forward, there's little doubt the on-form Alfredo Morelos will be the focal point of our attack as usual, despite the fine contribution of Jermain Defoe who should be a better backup option that Omar Sadiq was in last year's semi. That leaves the two supporting roles with several players capable of filling the inside forward positions or indeed pulling wide if required as well. Fitness may well determine the contribution of Ryan Kent and Brandon Barker so the likes of Sheyi Ojo, Greg Stewart and Jamie Murphy will be eager to make the squad and prove they can help us win big games.
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Notwithstanding Hearts poor form this season, yesterday's sacking of Craig Levein still came as a surprise ahead of Sunday's big game. The Jambo supporters weren't keen on retaining his services though and it will be interesting to see if caretaker Austin MacPhee changes the way the Edinburgh side play in the coming weeks.
It is unlikely he'll do so at the weekend though and I'd expect a similar line-up to their recent matches. Returns for Jamie Walker and Glenn Whelan seem likely and don't be surprised to see Steven Naismith make the bench as well. Meanwhile Christophe Berra and Michael Smith will be keen to replicate their solid partnership from the fixture two weeks ago. Hearts' goalscorer Ryotaro Meshino will join Jamie Walker in providing the maroon creative threat, looking to link with Ikpeazu where possible.
No matter (or even because of) the result at Tynecastle in October, Rangers should be approaching this game with renewed efforts to prove they can deliver success this season. Winning trophies isn't all about outstanding football but a wide-ranging approach of hard work, tactical nous and quality in key moments; virtues missing all too often as Rangers recover from the desperate times of 2012, and virtues certainly absent when Aberdeen knocked us out last October.
Yet, it's safe to say Rangers this season are a different animal. We're physically stronger defensively, we create more chances, we score more goals and we're more flexible tactically with a bigger, better squad. Even so, several players from last years debacle remain so for at least half our team this weekend, this match should be all about proving themselves capable of winning big matches and offering a genuine challenge for silverware.
Not progressing into December's final may not end our season or be the end of the world but it would be another key test failed so we have to hope the players and coaching team are well aware of what's at stake on Sunday.
Possible Starting XI
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