Friday, 20 May 2011

Last Shot At Glory For This Year

Saturday sees the last chance for football silverware in Scotland as Celtic and Motherwell take part in the 126th Scottish Cup final.

26 May 2007: Celtic's Last Scottish Cup Win
Celtic are favourites to win, having beaten Motherwell on Sunday 4-0 and having come so close to winning the Championship.  Celtic have had a very mixed season.  Their manager, Neil Lennon, has formed the basis of a good Celtic team, one that came within a point of the Championship.  However Lennon has become the most controversial figure in Scottish football.  The controversy surrounding refereeing in the aftermath of the first Old Firm game and a game at Tannadice (stoked lest we forget not by Lennon but by Celtics Chairman & Chief Executive) led to referees going on strike. The controversy obscured the fact that a debate on refereeing standards was overdue.  Lennon also became embroiled in touchline arguments at Tynecastle and against Rangers.

That Celtic came so close to the championship was unseen by myself, but their achievements this season should have been greater.  They lost the mental battle against Rangers in the League Cup, and could not summon enough mental strength to come back from 2 down at Inverness.  The one thing Celtic could do with next season to usurp Rangers is more mental toughness.  We will see if they have any reserves left to win what would be their first Scottish Cup win since 2007.

Facing Celtic will be a Motherwell side that have shipped goals since their semi-final win against St Johnstone last month.  It might be that Motherwell, under rookie manager Stuart McCall, are keeping themselves for Saturday.  One suspects that Celtic might still be favourites even if this were the case.  That’s not to rain on Motherwell’s parade, its just fact.  This will be their seventh Scottish Cup final, and history has not been kind to them against Celtic. They contested the finals of 1931 and 1933, Celtic winning both times (4-2 after a replay in 1931 and 1-0 in 1933).   

Motherwell next reached the final in 1939, beating Celtic 3-1 in the quarter finals, only to lose 4-0 to Clyde in the Final.  Their next final was in 1951, and yes it was against Celtic, losing 1-0.  Motherwell made the final the following year, and with Celtic exiting at the first round, had grounds for optimism.  On the 19 April 1952, Motherwell broke their duck and won the Scottish Cup for the first time, beating Dundee 4-0.
18 May 1991, Motherwell 4, Dundee United 3

It would be 39 years before Motherwell would appear in another Scottish Cup final.  When they did, they broke another hoodoo. In the Semi Final they were drawn to play Celtic at Hampden.  The first game finished 0-0, but 6 days later they eased past 4-2 making it a non Old Firm final with special resonance. The first time that two Scottish cup finalists were coached by brothers – Jim McLean was still managing Dundee United while Motherwell were coached by Tommy McLean.  Wednesday was the 20th anniversary of that final, which went down as one of the best Scottish Cup finals played.  Motherwell won 4-3 after extra time.  However any nostalgia is tinged with sadness as Davie Cooper & Phil O’Donnell, who played that day, are no longer with us.  Paul McGrillen & Jamie Dolan, who did not play but were in the squad, also died young.

Celtic are the clear favourites for this game.  However if Motherwell can shackle the Celtic forwards, frustrate them and most importantly score first, I think they will have a chance.  I’m not sure that Celtic perform at their best under pressure – as we have seen against Rangers (in the League Cup) and at Inverness.  The first goal will be the key factor.  I think that Celtic will win 2-0.

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