RANGERS will go into this afternoon’s SPFL Premiership clash against Hearts riding on the crest of a wave.
And rightly so, after their fine 3-1 victory against Rapid Vienna that put them top of their Europa League group.
Around the same time, Celtic will be at McDiarmid Park to play St Johnstone, looking to bounce back from their defeat in Salzburg.
European football is important to both clubs, both in terms of finances and prestige.
But there’s so much riding on this season’s Premiership campaign – Celtic wanting to continue their march towards 10-in-a-row, and Rangers looking to capitalise on the bounce Steven Gerrard has given the club.
That’s why, in the bigger picture for the Old Firm, the Sunday games are more important than the ones on a Thursday.
That said, I really would love someone to talk me through the detail of this as I can’t work it out.
Players seem to have a problem with playing on Thursday nights in Europe, and then having domestic games on Sundays.
Yet they seem to cope better with a Wednesday night in the Champions League followed by a Saturday game.
The amount of rest time between the fixtures is the same, so it leaves me really struggling to work out what is the difference.
It’s must be psychological. It must all be in their minds.
There is, however, no doubt their six additional games in the Europa League will put pressure on the Celtic and Rangers squads.
Hearts didn’t have a midweek game and they’ll head to Ibrox fresh-legged and fearless.
Craig Levein deserves an enormous amount of credit for what he has achieved in recent months.
After receiving excellent support from the people ‘upstairs’ during the summer transfer window, he changed his squad and brought in around a dozen players. But they have gelled magnificently well.
It’s especially pleasing to see him back in good health and able to attend the games to manage his team after his heart problems.
Health is more important than a football result.
It is, however, always wonderful to get a victory in European football, and Rangers are now in a solid position to qualify for the knock-out stages after Christmas.
That would be a wonderful achievement – but it could well have a detrimental effect on their domestic ambitions.
Indeed, what’s at stake against league leaders Hearts cannot be underestimated.
Craig’s men already have the comfort of an eight-point lead over the Gers.
But if the hosts receive similar backing today from their fans as they did on Thursday evening, then they will stand a very good chance of victory.
Make no mistake, to have nearly 50,000 fans on your side should give you an advantage over the opposition.
Remember, there are a few young players in Steven Gerrard’s team, and they will still be finding their feet at such a high level.
Some of their passes will go astray – as was the case against Rapid – but to know they will not be overly-criticised for it from the people in the stands will give them comfort and confidence.
Steven will be appreciating the backing of the supporters and he will know his side will need it more than ever against the men from Edinburgh.
Craig’s players have been playing some fine football, and you can tell they are full of confidence.
They deserve to be top of the league as they are unbeaten, having dropped only two points – a 0-0 draw at home to Livingston.
Hearts have really lit up the league race, and I think it’s wonderful to see such an open table.
I know we are less than 10 games in, but I welcome the fact that Hearts, Hibs, Livingston and Kilmarnock are all doing well and sitting above the Old Firm.
Sure, it may all change in the next four or five games, but something tells me the top five or six will remain tightly bunched until December, at least.
As I’ve said, part of the reason for that is the extra games Celtic and Rangers will play in the Europa League on Thursday evenings.
In that context, Celtic’s visit to Perth today is huge.
While they can have few complaints about the midweek result in Austria, I felt the red card for James Forrest was harsh.
As much as Brendan Rodgers and his players would welcome the chance of Europa League football at the turn of the year, it can take its toll on the squad.
Of course, you would never refuse an opportunity to progress in Europe. But with the stakes so high in the Premiership this season, you would not want to take your eye off the ball.
I accept that many fans of the Old Firm out there would expect their club to be able to cope with demands on all fronts. The reality, however, can often be different from wishful thinking.
As everyone always points out, the most important game is the next one and for the Parkhead club – and Rangers – it’s vital they win this afternoon.