ONE of the most eagerly awaited dates in the Scottish Football is almost upon us as the Fourth Round of the Scottish Cup is ready commence, meaning the big guns enter the competition.
It’s been nearly six months since the competition began with two preliminary rounds in August, and now 32 clubs are ready to fight to progress as the Road to Hampden really begins now that the Premiership clubs and last seasons top four Championship sides join the party.
This seasons draw has thrown in all the ingredients of a tasty weekend of Scottish Cup action. There are two local derbies, a Non-League hosting one of Scotland’s biggest clubs, and some potential banana skins for the top sides against lower league opposition.
Four non-League sides remain in the Cup and one will be guaranteed progression to the Fifth Round with Formartine United and Cove Rangers kicking off the Fourth Round action on Friday night. For the winner, the hope is to land the money-spinning, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that awaits Fraserburgh on Sunday as they welcome Rangers to Bellslea Park. The Highland League outfit have beaten fellow Non-League sides Forres Mechanics, Edinburgh University and Spartans to land the biggest game in their history, which is being covered by Sky, thus giving the club a huge financial boost and a day to remember, regardless of the score line. The other Non-League outfit, Brora Rangers, will be confident of causing an upset away to League One side East Fife and keep alive their dreams of a lucrative tie in the next round.
Whilst Fraserburgh v Rangers represents the romantic element of the Cup with David taking on Goliath, the tie of the round is, undoubtedly, in Edinburgh where arch-rivals from the Capital Hearts and Hibernian go head-to-head, also on Sunday and also on Sky. This is the third year in a row Tynecastle has hosted an Edinburgh derby in the Cup, with the last two meetings coming in the Fifth Round and ending up in a replay at Easter Road, and the fifth time the two have collided in the Cup in six years. After demolishing the Hibees 5-1 in the 2012 Final, Hearts have went out to their rivals in each of the last four Scottish Cup meetings and will be keen to avenge that. Hibs, on the other hand, will look for that good run to continue, as well as their recent Scottish Cup form in the last six years that’s overseen five Semi Finals, three Finals and that elusive first triumph in 114 years, something they’d love to emulate again.
Edinburgh isn’t the only place where a derby is happening in the Fourth Round. Through in Lanarkshire, Motherwell play host to Hamilton Academical just three weeks since the two met in the final round of Premiership matches before the split, where Accies came out on top with a 3-1 win. After a fine start to the season, culminating in a Betfred League Cup Final appearance, The Steelmen’s season has nosedived, winless in their last nine matches and flirting with being sucked into a relegation battle. Meanwhile, Accies best form has been saved for on the road, where they’ve picked up victories at Easter Road and Ibrox in addition to their Fir Park win and won’t be phased at facing up to ‘Well again.
In terms of potential shocks for the top flight clubs, St Johnstone and Partick Thistle face tricky away matches at Albion Rovers and Queen of the South respectively. Although, generally, Saints rarely slip up against lower division opponents, they won’t relish going to Cliftonhill having just returned from their break whilst Partick come up against a Queens side who, on their day, are capable of turning them over if their attitude is not right on Saturday. Elsewhere, the third TV pick, this time on BBC, last seasons runners up Aberdeen entertain Championship leaders St Mirren in the lunchtime game on Saturday. The Dons are only too aware that Jack Ross’s side will be no pushover, as emphasised when they led for much of their Quarter Final against Celtic at Parkhead last season, and will need to ensure they’re at their best to get through and take the next step in returning to Hampden to atone for last seasons stoppage time loss to the Treble winners in last years Final.
As for the holders, they face Championship whipping boys Brechin City at Celtic Park. It looks as though this will be a walk in the park for Brendan Rodgers side against a team who have failed to register a single victory in the League this season. If, somehow, the Angus side pull off a victory, it would rank as one of the biggest shocks in the history of the Scottish Cup, if not the greatest one.
So the scene is set for the Fourth Round of the William Hill Scottish Cup to commence and where the Road to Hampden starts to get interesting. Which non-League side will continue their fairytale? Which lower league side will threaten to topple the giants en route to glory? What shocks will there be? Who will gain extra bragging rights in the derby fixtures as they dump their rivals out the Cup? In the end, can anybody stop Celtic achieving the inaugural back-to-back treble success?
Time will tell over the next five months as 32 teams whittle their way down to two in the Final on 19 May 2018, with one emerging victorious and taking home the famous old trophy. What is certain is that, unlike their spoilt counterparts down south, every team will treat the Scottish Cup with the upmost respect and all teams are desperate to lift the trophy for various reasons in addition of the joy of lifting the Cup itself.