NINETY ONE teams have participated in this seasons Scottish Cup, now only four remain as the Road to Glory reaches the penultimate stage this weekend.
Fans of Motherwell, Aberdeen, Celtic and Rangers head to Hampden for the Semi Finals, hoping to see their team book a return visit to the National Stadium for the showpiece event on 19 May.
There are plenty of reasons for each side to treasure a Scottish Cup victory this season, setting the scene for the potential of two pulsating affairs.
Saturday: Motherwell v Aberdeen
When the draw was made, this was the tie both sides wanted as it possesses their best chance of reaching the Final.
Motherwell haven’t won the competition since the classic 1991 Final against Dundee United, where Tommy McLean guided them to a 4-3 victory. The Steelmen have recent experience of playing in a major Cup Final, reaching the League Cup Final in November and performed quite well despite going down 2-0 to Celtic. Along the way, they disposed of the Dons 3-0 in the Quarter Final so they will be going to Hampden confident of reaching a second Cup Final of the season.
Well are hampered with the loss of captain Carl McHugh, who scored their stunning winner against Hearts in the last round, through suspension. However, their robust style that has served them well this season, coupled with the fact they won at Hampden six months ago against Rangers, will give them confidence of getting to their first Final in this competition since 2011.
Aberdeen, on the other hand, have endured a slightly longer wait to grab hold of the famous old trophy, the 1990 penalty shootout victory over Celtic. They did end a 17 year wait for a Final appearance last season before going down to the Hoops, who clinched the treble, and will be counting on that big game experience to see them make a return to the National Stadium for a third major final out of four.
Like Motherwell, Derek McInnes is without his skipper with Graeme Shinnie suspended, joined by midfield partner Kenny McLean and right back Shay Logan. However, they go into the game having just beaten Well a week ago with a fine 2-0 win at Fir Park and their drive to go one better than last season may be a deciding factor in the Dons having another crack at ending their 28 year Scottish Cup hoodoo.
Sunday: Celtic v Rangers
A fixture that needs no introduction as to what it means to both sets of fans, with the extra ingredient of Scottish Cup glory at stake.
Celtic are seeking back-to-back trebles with the League Cup in the trophy room and the title just three points away. This feat has never been done in Scottish Football, with Celtic in 1969/70 and Rangers in 1993/94 coming closest to doing so before stumbling to Final defeats in this competition. Arguably, their fiercest rivals are the biggest stumbling block to that historic achievement, and they should be motivated enough to ensure that their rivals don’t stand in their way to glory.
Although their performances have generally dipped from the Invincibles glory of last season, Brendan Rodgers side are still able to turn up the gears when they need to, as emphasised when they dug out a 3-2 win at Ibrox with ten men last time out. The fact that the League is all but tied up means Celtic will be more focussed for this tie than they have been in certain League games and have more than enough matchwinners in their team to take a step closer to history.
Sunday’s match is Rangers last shot at winning their first major trophy since 2011, and their first Scottish Cup since 2009. Although they’ve been in the Lower Leagues for four of those years, that’s too long a wait for a club who’s fans, despite the circumstances, have demanded success that they’ve been used to for a number of years. In addition, this is arguably Graeme Marty’s last throw at the dice to keep the job beyond the summer, with Chairman Dave King already hinting that they’ll be looking elsewhere for the man to lead the club going forward.
There is also the motivation of stopping their dominant and fiercest rivals in their tracks on their pursuit of history. Seeing Celtic getting seven in a row is difficult enough to stomach but to witness them clinch successive trebles would be very difficult for their loyal fans to bear, so the pressure on the Rangers players is enormous. However, they can take heart from the fact they gained a well earned draw at Parkhead and have shown improvements under Murty since he took over from Portuguese flop Pedro Caixinha, so they’ll be confident of ending Celtic’s route to history and end their long wait for a major trophy.
So the scene is set and Hampden is ready for two pulsating Semi Finals over the weekend. As ever, the Scottish Football Forums team will give their impartial views on the games and their good friends at McBookie have the best odds available.