ONE of the most eagerly anticipated dates in the Scottish Football calendar is just days away as Hampden Park gets ready to host the 2018 Scottish Cup Final.
Unlike their counterparts down south who devalue their showpiece event by proclaiming a 17th place League finish as a greater achievement than Wembley glory, the Scottish Cup is a trophy every club in Scotland is desperate to get their hands on. 92 clubs have featured in this years competition that began way back in September – and now its down to two clubs to fight it out at the National Stadium for the ultimate prize.
Current holders Celtic, who are chasing a historic double-treble, a feat never achieved in Scottish Football, take on Motherwell, looking for their first Cup win since their famous 1991 triumph against Dundee United in what was the greatest Scottish Cup Final of all time.
For the second consecutive season, the Final is between the same two clubs who contested the League Cup Final six months earlier, with Celtic defeating Motherwell 2-0 back in November. Saturday’s match has the makings of a close fought affair.
In that Betfred Cup Final, Motherwell were still very much in the game at 1-0 down, had created a couple of chances before Cedric Kipre’s red card and Moussa Dembele converting the resultant penalty ended that game as a contest. A few days later, the two sides met again, this time at Fir Park, and the Steelmen led until the final few minutes before a controversial penalty handed Celtic a draw. The Bhoys did comfortably win 5-1 in the third meeting that week in front of their own fans but were given another tough match at Fir Park in March, with the hosts dominating until another Kipre red card, which was later rescinded, meant they had to defend for their lives to come away with a credible 0-0 draw.
Motherwell have not had an easy route back to Hampden, being paired with fellow Premiership opposition in every round. They came through a home Lanarkshire derby against Hamilton with a 2-0 win in the Fourth Round, before coasting through at Dundee in the next round by the same score line. Next up was Hearts at Fir Park in a pulsating tie that required a stunning strike by skipper Carl McHugh to book their place in the last four.
In the Semi Final, Well were paired with Aberdeen, whom they trounced 3-0 in the League Cup Quarter Finals earlier in the season. It was expected to be a much tougher affair this time round but the Steelmens physical approach was too much for an underperforming Dons side to handle, with a Curtis Main double and a Ryan Bowman goal seeing them repeat the score line from that match in September and book Motherwell’s a second Cup Final appearance of the season, a feat last achieved back in 1950/51.
Celtic took advantage of three home draws to get to the last four. They strolled past Championship basement boys Brechin City 5-0 in the Fourth Round before a James Forrest hat trick saw them past fellow Premiership side Partick in a 3-2 victory. Greenock Morton were next up for the Hoops and, despite being held for an hour, they comfortably came through with a 3-0 win.
For the third year running, the Semi Final draw three up an Old Firm clash. Rangers manager Graeme Murty made the PR gaff of revealing that his players were cheering at the prospect of facing their fiercest rivals. It fired Celtic up even more than normal for an Old a Firm Derby and they wiped the floor with their opponents in a convincing 4-0 win that emphasised the gap between the two sides.
So that’s how Motherwell and Celtic got to the 2018 Scottish Cup Final – who will be lifting the famous old trophy at the end of it?
Obviously, Celtic go in as heavy favourites as they seek to claim that historic double-treble. They could’ve achieved that feat in 1969/70, only to lose the Scottish Cup Final to Aberdeen. Rangers were the only other side to come as close back in 1993/94, but came unstuck against Dundee United in the Hampden showpiece.
Although Celtic haven’t hit the same heights as last season, dropping 24 points on last seasons league total, Brendan Rodgers side still have an abundance of talent to pick from that outstrips all their opponents in Scotland. They’ve also been able to turn it on in the big games this season, such as going to Pittodrie twice to win, defeating Rangers with ten men at Ibrox and that 5-0 thrashing they dished out to their rivals to clinch the title.
One team who have the capabilities to stop Celtic achieving history is Motherwell. Stephen Robinson has recruited excellently by bringing in the likes of McHugh, Tom Aldred, Kipre and Main and have been able to handle the big cup occasions.
Well have adopted a different playing style based on high energy and aggression, that has ruffled the feathers of a few opponents this season. That style could upset Celtic’s rhythm, especially at the back where they are prone to the odd error, and they’ll be confident that they can bring the cup back to Fir Park for the first time in 27 years.
Hampden should be a colourful setting on Saturday, with Green and White and one end and Claret and Amber at the other. From a neutral point of view, we’re hoping for some lovely sunshine and an entertaining game that befits the occasion.
Fans of Motherwell and Celtic won’t be caring a jot so long as their team takes home the Scottish Cup!