THE penultimate round of the first major tournament of the season takes place this weekend as the remaining four teams in this campaigns Betfred League Cup do battle for a place in November’s Final.
There are two intriguing games in prospect for different reasons taking place at Hampden this weekend. Firstly, Championship side Morton, participating in their first national Semi Final since 1981, and first in the League Cup since 1979, take on Aberdeen, winners of the competition just two and a half years ago. The next day sees the latest Old Firm battle between Celtic and Rangers, which will no doubt dominate the Scottish media all week for more than just footballing reasons.
It promises to be an interesting weekend for the tournament, which was revamped this season with mixed reviews as the competition reverted back to group stage matches that were successful back in the 70’s but cynics believing it was wrong for the modern game.
Whatever people think of the group stages, and personally (as mentioned in a previous blog) I think they have been a welcome change to a tournament in need of repair, there is no question that the Semi Finals coming four weeks after the last round as opposed to three months is a positive for the League Cup, which does keep interest going rather than neutrals forgetting about the competition.
This weekends matches certainly have that potential to be interesting with the David v Goliath battle in one tie and two fierce rivals, no matter how lamely elements of one side try to deny it, coming head-to-head in the other.
For Morton, this Saturday is an occasion for them to relish. Over three and a half decades have passed since their supporters witnessed a League Cup Semi Final, ironically against the Dons, and they will be confident that Jim Duffy’s men can spring a surprise after their stunning 5-0 away win at then Championship leaders Queen of the South.
They face an Aberdeen side in confident mood themselves following five consecutive victories in all competitions and determined to get back to a major Cup Final again after dreadful performances in the last three knockout competitions, which saw them go out in the first round they entered on each occasion.
Derek McInnes will be out to ensure that his side don’t underestimate the Ton, whom he made his name as a player before moving to Rangers, and the Red Army will only be too aware of the last time we played a lower division side in a a National Semi Final, which I won’t mention as the memory is still painful.
Whilst it has the prospects of a cracking match, it is a shame that, if reports are accurate, it will be played in front of a less than half full Hampden Park at lunchtime.
The latter can’t be helped too much as we all knew BT Sport were covering both ties as part of the rights that they SPFL agreed to, and the Old Firm match was always going to be played on the Sunday.
However, it would’ve been better for atmosphere if the match was played at somewhere like Tynecastle or Easter Road, where a packed near-20,000 crowd would be much better than over 30,000 empty seats. That being said, it is difficult to deny Morton their right to play at Hampden having gone so long without an occasion like this.
Empty seats is not going to be an issue the next day as Celtic face up to their old adversaries Rangers.
It’s only five weeks since Brendan Rogers side thumped their rivals 5-1, which lead to the fallout between Rangers and Joey Barton, an issue that, ridiculously, still hasn’t been resolved.
Mark Warburton’s side have shown slight improvements in their last couple of League games against the two Thistles, Partick and Inverness Caley, with consecutive victories and clean sheets, showing that Barton was a hindrance to their side rather than an asset.
You don’t need to be a football expert to say this weekend is a much tougher examination against a Celtic side who look set to romp to the title. However, on a one-off occasion, they can be beaten on their day, as Rangers in fact showed in last seasons Scottish Cup Semi Final (albeit on penalties), therefore it’s not a foregone conclusion that the Hoops will prevail on Sunday.
As ever, the main hope is that the game is remembered for events on the pitch and not overshadowed by petulant behaviour of idiots amongst both sets of supporters who put shaming their club over supporting their respective sides.
Most neutrals this week will be predicting an Aberdeen v Celtic Final as both, understandably, are overwhelming favourites going into the last four encounters. However, it is not a guarantee that either will sweep their opponents aside, the Dons in particular have no reason to treat Morton as a pushover whilst the Hoops have had a few setbacks at the Semi Final stage over the last few years to St Mirren, Inverness and Ross County.
Let’s hope that both Semi Finals deliver two matches worth talking about on the pitch from a neutral perspective, although personally I don’t care if Saturday’s match is dross so long as Aberdeen get to the final.