Saturday, 15 March 2014

Flag Day For The North

Stewart McKimmie (with Duncan Shearer) lifts the League Cup in 1995
Sunday sees the 67th Scottish League Cup Final, which for the second season in a row does not feature any of the Old Firm.  Indeed the only Old Firm representation comes with Celtic hosting this final due to the work being done to Hampden in the run up to this summer’s Commonwealth Games.  Unlike last year, the two finalists are firmly in the top half of the table as the much admired but still work in progress Aberdeen side come up against Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

Like St Mirren last year, Caley Thistle are chasing their first win in this competition.  Unlike St Mirren, this will be their first national final, having reached four semi final’s previously (three Scottish Cup semis and in this competition last year) they gained revenge of sorts over Hearts for their defeat on penalties last year by winning on penalties this year.

The strange thing about Caley Thistle getting to this final is that this is a side about to go into transition.  Their manager at the start of the season Terry Butcher left them in November, having decided he had taken them as far as he could, and took on the Hibernian job.  His successor was the former Falkirk, Hibernian and Hartlepool manager John Hughes.  Butcher’s footballing philosophy was to get the ball forward as quickly as possible, different from Hughes who believes in a passing game.  The key to Hughes success though will be the ability of his sides to score – the hallmark of all of his sides has been that they have been attractive but have been a little punchless in front of goal, exhibit one in this argument being the 2009 Scottish Cup Final.

Nine points and two places above Inverness are their opponents Aberdeen.  Currently, conventional wisdom among the Scottish Footballing commentariat dictates, the best side in the country not called Celtic.  This is their 13th final in this competition, but their first since the 2-0 defeat to the Dalgliesh led Celtic in 2000.  Indeed it will be their first final since that season’s Scottish Cup when they went down to Rangers 4-0 (beating Inverness in the 4th Round).  You need to go back to 1995 for their last victory in this competition when they beat Dundee 2-0 (above) to go with their victories in 1955/6, 1976/7, 1985/6 (Alex Ferguson’s only win in this tournament) and 1989/90.

While in recent weeks Inverness have been playing a 4-4-2, Aberdeen have options up front.  They’ve been playing 4-4-2 since they signed Adam Rooney, but are capiable of playing 4-3-3 with Pawlett & McGinn pushed up.  Indeed, while it is tempting to think of Aberdeen of a team of young turks, there is experience there with former Inverness player Barry Robson and former Dundee United midfielder Willo Flood, both of whom also played for Celtic. 

As mentioned earlier, Inverness have tended to play captain up Ritchie Foran alongside top scorer Billy MacKay.  Their biggest problem may well be their defence, which at times during last weeks Scottish Cup mauling at the hands of Dundee United looked all at sea.  They have also shipped five recently to Celtic.  How they cope with the loss, through suspension, of Warren may be key.  This is especially the case given the form Aberdeen have been in during this competition, putting five past Falkirk in the autumn and Four past St Johnstone in the semi final six weeks ago.  Worryingly for Inverness, Aberdeen have shown flashes of being able to live with Celtic, dumping them out of the Scottish Cup at Parkhead and then becoming the first team to defeat them this season.

If Aberdeen look like runaway favourites, they shouldn’t be.  They’ve not been that great when I’ve seen them against St Mirren this season, escaping with a 1-1 draw in September but winning 1-0 in a pretty awful match. If Inverness need inspiration, they can look at their 1-0 win at Pittodrie in January (above) – the last meeting between the two sides.  Aberdeen are rightly favourites, but I don’t think they will turn up and blow Inverness away.  I think if Aberdeen can get going though, they will win by 2-0.

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