DAVID BATES had never sampled the Parkhead atmosphere when he took to the pitch at the home of Rangers’ Old Firm rivals in December.

But he produced a performance of a player beyond his years and experience as he helped Graeme Murty record a second successive derby draw in the East End.

The 21-year-old had made just five appearances – including both games in the ill-fated Europa League tie with Progres Niederkorn - in the opening months of the campaign before he was pitched into action against Celtic.

Read more: VIDEO: Rangers legend Derek Johnstone previews Sunday's clash with Celtic

Bates took over from the injured Bruno Alves after just 18 minutes and would return home with the Man of the Match champagne after a resolute defensive showing.

This time, he seems assured of a starting berth and it is all three points that the Gers have in their sights against Brendan Rodgers’ side.

The lifelong Light Blue grew up dreaming of starring on derby day at Ibrox. On Sunday, he will get the chance on the biggest day of his career and of Rangers’ season.

“When I first came into the team I put a lot of pressure on myself to impress and try to do well,” Bates said.

“I shouldn’t have done that but now that I’m in the team week in week out and growing in confidence I feel I’m getting better. I feel a lot better in the back four.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well and be the best I can be at a club I supported as a boy.

Read more: Graeme Murty pleased with Rangers' attacking talents ahead of Old Firm clash

“I never went to Old Firm games as a fan but I’ve watched a good few as a wee boy with my dad in the pub! I was playing as a youngster so didn’t get to games.

“When I was young I looked up to great players such as Dado Prso. I always liked Chris Burke on the wing because of the ginger hair!

“There were others such as Nacho Novo and Peter Lovenkrands - these boys were top players.

“I didn’t look out for defenders as a boy because I was a striker and didn’t think I would end up being one.

“Obviously there were guys such as Davie Weir at the club who were great.

“As a 12-year-old I was a striker but when I went to Raith at 15 I was changed into a centre-half.”

Read more: Rangers owe the Ibrox crowd an Old Firm performance, says Bruno Alves

The showing that Rangers produced at Parkhead late last year has arguably been their finest of the season to date. If they are to emerge victorious this weekend, the bar may well have to be raised even higher.

As the Gers have gone from strength to strength in recent weeks, Bates has made the most of his chance to impress at Ibrox.

It says much about his progression that many see him as a certain starter against Celtic and the former Raith Rovers kid is eager to enjoy another memorable Old Firm encounter.

He said: “Being back in the team for the last ten games has been great for me.

“I’ve been playing week in, week out and that’s been a lot of help to me.

“I feel more confident going into the game and more comfortable in the back four.

Read more: VIDEO: Rangers legend Derek Johnstone previews Sunday's clash with Celtic

“To be honest I felt confident I could go into the team and do a job for the team before the last game against Celtic.

“I was then called upon in the 15th minute, earlier than I thought it might happen. But luckily enough I did well when I went on.

“It was like any game, I was just looking to make a good first pass and make a good first tackle or header. That usually sets you up for a good game.

“The gaffer hadn’t been long in through the door back then at that point and he got a good bit of confidence into the team. He’s also been very good since the winter break as well.”

Rangers have approached recent meetings with Celtic with a degree of caution and their form in the famous fixture does not make for pleasant reading.

There is optimism amongst supporters on this occasion, however, and the ramifications of a home win could be significant as the Ibrox crowd target a late bid for the Premiership title.

Read more: Graeme Murty pleased with Rangers' attacking talents ahead of Old Firm clash

Murty has set his side up to largely contain Celtic in his previous two Old Firm encounters but attack could be the best form of defence this time around as in-form Gers target a derby success.

Bates said: “I don’t think there’s any doubt we’ll create chances. We can see it every week, we’re really good going forward.

“We’ve been conceding a few chances at the back recently too but not much. I just think going forward we’re a big threat.

“Our game plan will be the same as usual but we’ll attack as we’re scoring a lot of goals at the moment. I don’t think this game will be any different.

“I obviously train against our strikers and they’re making me better. If you need to defend one-v-one against someone like Alfredo Morelos or Jason Cummings then you will get better from that.

“We’ve seen how good Celtic can be. They made it into the Europa League and did alright in the Champions League, competing against good teams.

“Celtic on their day are a very good side. We need to respect what they’re good at but also show what we’re good at.”