AN already thrilling Scottish football season can reach new heights on Thursday night with the prospect of the best achievement in the European arena for a decade.

Rangers and Celtic have it within their grasp to reach the last 32 of the Europa League by virtue of winning their final group matches and that would be a laudable feat and have a hugely beneficial effect, not least on the co-efficient.

You have to go back to 2008 when Rangers reached the final of the competition’s predecessor, the Uefa Cup, and Celtic qualified for the round of 16 of the Champions League to find a better effort.

These were heady days when Scotland had two representatives in Europe’s premier competition and success on Thursday could pave the way for a return.

Celtic host Salzburg while Rangers are in the Austrian capital to face Rapid Vienna and it is a mouth-watering prospect for Ibrox assistant manager Gary McAllister, who was a Uefa Cup winner with Liverpool in 2001.

“If both of us could get through, it would be a big night for Scottish football, no doubt about that,” McAllister said. “It’s big for the club, the kudos that comes with it, for the fans as well and the benefit to the co-efficient for Scottish football will be big. It’s a massive game. I don’t know how many tickets we’ve got – is it a couple of thousand? – but I think there might be more there.

“It will be a great game to be involved in as a player. What we’ve created is a cup final. There’s no other way to look at it and that’s going to be the approach.”

It has been a remarkable run from Rangers given that they had to navigate four qualifying rounds, knocking out Shkupi, Osijek, Maribor and Russian side Ufa.

In the group, Rangers have beaten Rapid at home, drawn home and away with Villarreal, claimed a point at Ibrox against Spartak Moscow and lost in the Russian capital.

Have they overachieved?

“If you had said to us when we played Shkupi right at the beginning, I would have said, ‘yeah’ but as we’ve progressed, we’ve done well and got to the group stage,” McAllister said. “There have been moments in the group, games you look back on, especially when the goal was disallowed in Moscow, and we could have been in a different position. But I suppose the fact we might have been going into this game looking for a point and trying to protect something, you know what it’s like, it’s more difficult.

“We know what we need to do now. It’s not a case of going in there and looking for a draw. We need to win and when we’re on the front foot it probably suits us better. We’ve had a great away record in Europe but the performance levels have been good, too.

“The one for me is [the 0-0 draw away to] Maribor, I thought we were excellent because they are a good team, Champions League pedigree. I was impressed with the players that night and especially from that performance the players grew and thought, ‘we can affect this competition’.

“The performances in Spain and Moscow were both very good, although different results.”

Rangers seem suited to the European arena under Steven Gerrard but it has had an effect on the domestic scene given the sheer volume of matches.

“The opponent is trying to win the game and are coming out a little bit,” McAllister said. “It’s always hard to play against a packed defence but the European games people have seen it’s Scottish opposition and think they can come and maybe steamroller us but it has played into our hands and we’ve been able to take advantage of space. As they’ve pushed forward trying to win games, we’ve done well.

“The demands on the players have been massive, the amount of games, but what we’ve been trying to express to them is surely you’ve got to want that.

“In between all these European ties and domestic games, we also have international footballers who have had to go and represent their countries as well.

“That’s the situation we are in but it’s something we want. We hope we are fortunate enough to get to the group stage of Europe next season, but not necessarily in the same competition.

“By the time we play Celtic on December 29 we will have played 38 matches which is effectively a season.

“We go into another seven days now of three games again - it’s like game, recovery, second day recovery, game but it’s not affected us until now. I don’t think we’ve looked tired, maybe occasions in games after long journeys, but over the piece it has been managed pretty well.”