Friday, 16 May 2014

The Green Shoot's Final

There is a minority view that Scottish Football needs a revitalised Rangers to get back into the top flight of Scottish Football.  The rationale is that Celtic’s relentless marches to the championship have made Scottish Football boring. The problem with that argument is that Celtic are nowhere near as dominant as Rangers themselves were in the mid 90’s, if they were we wouldn’t be looking at, and be excited at, the prospect of another non old firm final this weekend.  This is the fourth since Rangers self combusted in 2012.  And all four have had what American screenwriters like to call narrative
Dundee United's Manager Ivan Golac celebrates with Brewster & Petric in 1994

Both of the cup finals this year have featured top six sides.  With Aberdeen beating Inverness in the drab League Cup final earlier on this season, Saturday’s 129th Scottish Cup final sees Dundee United attempt to win their third Scottish Cup in 20 years against a St Johnstone team in their first Scottish Cup final. 

Prior to their win against Aberdeen in the semi final, St Johnstone had reached 8 semi finals without any success.  The closest they had come to the final was taking Rangers to a replay in 1989 (a game overshadowed by events in Sheffield) and taking Rangers to penalties in 2008.  St Johnstone’s key player is Stevie May, Scotland’s young player of the year.  May has scored 20 this season, including a brace in the 2-1 win over Aberdeen in the final.  In that semi, he was partnered with Steven McLean who helped with a lot of the link up play from midfield.  The former Hib’s midfielder David Wotherspoon is expected to provide creativity from the middle of the park while at the back Dave MacKay will marshal the defence.

From the point of view of the other saints, there are three former Buddies in St Johnstone’s squad.  The one most likely to play will be Nigel Hasslebank, nephew of the former Leeds & Chelsea forward Jerrel “Jimmy” Floyd Hasslebank.  I would actually be surprised if he doesn’t make it to the bench at least, his pace could be crucial in the later stages.  As for the others, Paddy Cregg did come on at the end of the semi final and Chris Iwelumo is on the fringes of the team.

Dundee United are, well, seasoned pros at this game now.  They lost six finals (1974, 1981, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1991) before beating Rangers 1-0 twenty years ago (As it happens the anniversary of that win is next Wednesday).  Since then they lost to Celtic (1-0 in 2005) in Martin O’Neil’s last match as Celtic manager before winning it again four years ago against Ross County.  United start as slight favourites for this match.  They do have an exciting crop of young players in their squad, with commentators purring over the potential of Ryan Gauld and Stuart Armstrong.  Dundee United’s main threat will come from Nadir Ciftci, but it is astonishing to think that MacKay-Steven (Arguably United’s best player last season) is still there.  The experience in midfield will come from the former Hib’s player John Rankin.
St Johnstone's Steve May equalises in the semi final win against Aberdeen

The other facet of this game not discussed is that both sides are managed by men in their first season at their clubs.  St Johnstone’s Tommy Wright was assistant to Steve Lomas last season before declining Lomas offer to join him at Milwall.  Dundee United’s Jackie MacNamarra had been carving a reputation for himself at Partick before Dundee United decided to part with their previous cup final winning manager Stuart Houston after initially deciding not to renew his contract.  Ironically enough Derek McInnes had also been touted for the Dundee Utd post before MacNamarra was appointed and McInnes took up the vacant Aberdeen job.  Both McInnes and MacNamarras sides have shown flashes of good football but have also shown that those sides are still, for all the plaudits, very much works in progress.

Dundee United start as favourites for this final, rightly so.  They are the better side going forward and have more options.  I do wonder if their inexperience will play a part as it did with Aberdeen in the League Cup.  If Dundee United do let their inexperience get in the way, then St Johnstone have shown themselves more than capable of taking advantage & they do have the best Scottish based marksman in their team in May.  His shirt saying “May 17” could be all too prophetic come Saturday teatime. Their marksman’s name is on the date, I also think their name is also on the trophy.  I think St Johnstone will win 2-1.

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