This week will see the return of the Scottish Communities League Cup, which now reaches the Quarter Final stage. The likes of Rangers, Hearts and Aberdeen have already been eliminated, and with Celtic facing a potentially difficult trip to Easter Road, this year may offer a golden opportunity for a non Old Firm side to lift the trophy. In the past 15 years this has only happened on two occasions, the trophy going to Livingston in 2004 and Hibs in 2007, but the exit of Rangers, coupled with a fragile looking Celtic side, will give optimism to the 7 other teams left in the competition.
The League Cup itself may come under a lot of scrutiny as a meaningless tournament, and whilst it’s certainly not deemed as important as the Scottish Cup, a trophy is still something that any side would love to hold aloft, in particular those who do not hail from Glasgow. Dundee United, Kilmarnock, St Mirren and Hibs are all SPL sides, and all have home draws, so will fancy their chances of an appearance at Hampden – even if Hibs have been dealt by far the most difficult task of despatching Celtic. But, as is often the case in cup competitions, the real stories have came from the lower leagues, and although Falkirk stunned Rangers in the last round, it is East Fife and Ayr United who are both seeking a third consecutive top flight scalp.
East Fife are certainly the surprise package of the sides still remaining in the cup, as they currently sit mid-table in the Scottish Second Division. They had actually been struggling at the wrong end of the table earlier in the season when they pulled of their shock results against Dunfermline and then Aberdeen. John Robertson’s side gave their fans a night to remember in the Second Round when they defeated Fife rivals Dunfermline 2-1 at Bayview. It may have seemed that this was their big moment of the season, but the next round provided even more joy for the Fifers. A dramatic penalty shoot out victory at Pittodrie over Aberdeen, after a 3-3 draw in normal and then extra time, sent the part-timers into dreamland – and the last eight of the League Cup.
Ayr United are currently struggling at the bottom of the First Division, but they have provided stern opposition for SPL sides in the League Cup, as both Inverness and then Hearts fell short at Somerset Park. Caley Thistle lost narrowly 1-0 before Hearts were beaten on penalty kicks following a 1-1 draw.
Both sides will feel they have nothing to lose at this stage, but will still be big underdogs. East Fife face a trip to Kilmarnock, who have started the season reasonably well and have been free scoring at Rugby Park. They hammered Queen of the South 5-0 in the previous round, and with the likes of Paul Heffernan and Dean Shiels performing impressively together at the moment, a third cup upset seems unlikely. East Fife have actually won the League Cup on three occasions, but are the outsiders to repeat such a feat this year – with 66/1 odds at William Hill seeming rather short considering the club’s stature. They are 11/1 to progress past Killie, but again these odds seem rather short – although the previous upsets in the tournament thus far are probably being taken into account.
As for Ayr United, they face a trip to St Mirren who, similarly to Kilmarnock, have started the season well and have been playing some attractive football. Ayr United are 6/1 to emerge victorious, but again this would seem rather short odds considering their league position. The fact they’re also playing away from home on this occasion makes them an unattractive option, even for the most hopeful of punters. The ‘Honest Men’ are 40/1 to win the trophy outright, something they have never achieved in their history. They were, however, unlikely finalists in 2002 when they lost 4-0 to Rangers. The Ibrox side were comfortable winners at Hampden Park on that occasion, with goals coming from Tore Andre Flo, Barry Ferguson and a Claudio Caniggia double.
The romanticism of the cup will still offer many hope that the likes of East Fife and Ayr United can at least progress one more stage and claim a third SPL scalp, but they face difficult away trips to opposition who will not take them lightly following their recent exploits. The sensible money will be with Kilmarnock and St Mirren, although Falkirk may fancy their chances at Tannadice against a struggling Dundee United side. United are still second favourites to lift the trophy, behind Celtic, at 5/1, but recent form has not been impressive. Falkirk are 4/1 to win the match itself, and 25/1 to lift the trophy.
The biggest tie of the round, however, will be at Easter Road as Hibs host Celtic. Both sides have had relatively disappointing starts to the season, but each of them recorded wins at the weekend, which will provide a much needed confidence boost in both camps. When the draw was made few would have looked past a comfortable Celtic victory in this one, but Neil Lennon’s side have looked extremely vulnerable recently, and have lost in Edinburgh to Hearts only a matter of weeks ago. Colin Calderwood will hope his side’s 3-2 away victory against St Mirren on Saturday will provide the catalyst for a cup upset, but defensively, like their opponents, they still look extremely fragile. Celtic are 8/15, both to beat Hibs and to lift the trophy outright, with the Edinburgh side 11/2 on Wednesday evening, and 8/1 to repeat their cup success of 2007.
As the odds suggest, Celtic are still the most likely winners of the trophy – and it is rare that either of the cups in Scotland go anywhere else other than Parkhead or Ibrox. But the remaining teams in the competition will believe they can buck the trend this year, and for the likes of East Fife and Ayr United, just progressing to the next stage would be another fantastic achievement.
Scottish Communities League Cup Quarter Finals
Tuesday, 25 October 2011
Dundee Utd v Falkirk
Kilmarnock v East Fife
St Mirren v Ayr
Wednesday, 26 October 2011
Hibernian v Celtic
All of the odds provided are through William Hill, and are over 90 minutes – odds are also subject to change