Saturday, 12 April 2014

The One About Semi Final Weekend

In all the years that there has been the split in the top flight of Scottish Football, with the Scottish Cup Semi finals in between the split, there has not been such an intriguing set on semi final fixtures.  This weekend’s semi finals between Dundee United and Rangers, followed by Aberdeen against St Johnstone are the most interesting in years.  Arguably the last time the semi finals threw up such an interesting set of fixtures was in pre SPL times when Celtic played Rangers at neutral Parkhead and Falkirk played stuttering Hearts at Ibrox in 1998.

Saturday sees Dundee United take on Rangers at neutral Ibrox.  The announcement of the venues in advance has caused controversy – with Hampden out of use due to the upcoming Commonwealth Games.  This controversy intensified when Rangers beat Albion Rovers after a replay to reach their semi final.  Their opponents, Dundee United, have protested at the semi final being played at Ibrox to no avail.

I did think that Dundee Utd’s protests would backfire, that this would undermine their mentality and somehow enhance the intimatory factor Rangers fans will try to generate with reduced fans at their own stadium.  Except that if last weekend’s Ramsdens Cup final is anything to go by, Rangers reduced circumstances is matched by the comparatively poor play.  Since being forced to start at the bottom ring of the ladder, they have only won two cup ties against higher league opposition (a 2-0 win against Motherwell in last years League Cup & a 2-0 win against Falkirk in the third Round of this competition last December), while during that cup final they looked poor and rudderless against a side not anywhere near the top of the First Division.

Towards the end of last year, Dundee United looked like the best side in the country not playing in Green and White hoops.  That run came to an end on Boxing day with a mauling at the hands of St Mirren.  Since then, they’ve offered glimpses of that form – namely the 5-0 pre League Cup final shellacking of Inverness.  They maybe looked like going into this tie in a nervous manner – they lost 2-0 against the champions last week.  If they are nervous about Saturday, they shouldn’t be.  Rangers were awful last week and have not looked that great all season.  Dundee United should extend their winning streak against Rangers, going back quarter of a century.

Sunday’s quarter final is a repeat of the League Cup semi final when Aberdeen blew away St Johnsone 4-0 at Tynecastle in January.  Revenge for St Johnstone would be sweet and historic as they are aiming for their first Scottish Cup final.  This is their ninth appearance in the semi final stages, losing most recently in 2011 against Motherwell at Hampden.  Aberdeen on the other hand have won this trophy seven times, one behind Hearts.  Their most recent win though was in 1990, beating Celtic on penalties.  Since their last final in 2000, Aberdeen have had their own issues with semi finals.  They lost heavily to Celtic in 2011, but unexpectedly lost to Hibs in 2012 and more famously to Queen of The South in 2008.  Someone’s jinx is going to be broken.

If we go with the favourites, the Scottish Cup final on 17th May will be between Aberdeen & Dundee United.  I rather think that this weekend won’t be that straightforward.

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