ONE of the most eagerly awaited weekends in Scottish Football is just days away with the Fourth Round of the Scottish Cup taking place.
Of course, this means the entry of the Premiership clubs (along with Championship sides Ross County, Partick Thistle, Dundee United and Dunfermline) into the competition as the Road To Hampden really kicks off. There will be the usual throwback to previous shocks and one or two tipped to overcome their higher division opponents to ensure the romantic flame of the competition is still flowing.
And no tie will capture the romance of the Scottish Cup more than at Beechwood Park on Saturday when Junior side Auchinleck Talbot take on Ayr United, who have excelled in the Championship by sitting second in the table. The tie may not feature a top division side but it has all the ingredients for a great Scottish Cup tie between two local rivals with proud history.
Talbot are the most successful club in Junior Football history. Twelve Junior Cups, five West of Super League Premier Division titles and winning the former Ayrshire First Division on eleven occasions is unrivalled and have had to overcome three Highland League teams, including last seasons League Two Playoff Finalists Cove Rangers, to get to this stage. They face an Ayr side who have done remarkably well under Iain McCall and aided, largely, by the goals of Lawrence Shankland.
With the tie being shown live on BBC, the first time a Scottish Cup tie involving a Junior side has been given such coverage, and in front of a packed crowd, this Ayrshire Derby has the prospects of being a classic tie. The BBC should also be commended for picking this game as one of their two selections and us neutrals can only hope that the match lives up to the hype.
Steven Gerrard, who famously skippered Liverpool to FA Cup glory in 2006 with two stunning goals to dig his team out a hole against West Ham, gets his first taste of the Scottish equivalent with a trip to Cowdenbeath. The hosts, who have required nail biting playoff wins to avoid dropping out of the Senior football setup, are having a decent season, sitting fifth in League Two and hoping to get a playoff place to win Promotion rather than avoid relegation. They’ll be relishing the visit of the Rangers faithful, and welcoming Premier Sports to cover their first Scottish Cup game, to Central Park to give their income a much needed boost whilst dreaming of emulating the likes of Berwick Rangers, Clyde, Albion Rovers and Annan Athletic in causing one of the great Scottish Cup upsets.
Stenhousemuir are another club who wrote their name into Scottish Cup folklore back in 1995 when they knocked Aberdeen out of the competition, thanks to a double from Dairy Farmer Tommy Steel. They have been drawn with The Dons again, this time at Pittodrie, and it gives the media the opportunity to dust down the footage from the archives in their preview shows this week. With Stenny bottom of League One and coming up against a Dons side sitting just three points off the top, it would be an even bigger shock than 23 years ago if they managed to come away with victory.
Continuing on the 1995 theme, and it’s somewhat of a repeat of that years Final with Celtic taking on Airdrieonians. That final, albeit far from a classic, was a turning point in Celtic’s history as they ended a six year trophy drought with a 1-0 win. As Celtic went onto rebuild their reputation and start winning trophies on a regular basis again, Airdrie had the worst possible outcome seven years later as they plunged into liquidation before reforming as Airdrie United that summer. They reverted back to Airdrieonians and will be looking for inspiration from the class of ’95 in hope of an unlikely shock.
The bigger hopes of Cup upsets lie in three ties between Premiership and Championship clubs, albeit all with the top flight side having home advantage. Championship leaders Ross County will fancy their chances away to last seasons finalists Motherwell, who have been struggling for goals and consistency this campaign. Queen of the South, who downed County 4-0 on Saturday, will be confident that they can see off former Manager Jim McIntyre and add to Dundee’s woes this season. For Alloa Athletic Manager Jim Goodwin, it’s a return to St Mirren, where he was idolised by The Buddies support for captaining them to League Cup glory six years ago. He’ll not be in the mood for sentiment however as he sends the Wasps onto the turf to put another sting in his old clubs season.
There are two all Premiership ties with Lothian rivals Hearts and Livingston going head to head in Sunday’s live TV clash at Tynecastle. Still smarting from being trounced 5-0 at the Tony Macaroni Arena just before Christmas, The Jambos will be desperate for revenge against a Livi side who continue to punch well above their weight under Gary Holt. The other all top flight tie sees 2014 winners St Johnstone take on Hamilton. Smart money points to a comfortable Saints victory given both sides contrasting League form. However, Accies are good at pulling a result out of nowhere and the Cup might just bring another unlikely win out of them.
It’s always good when the Scottish Cup Fourth Round, previously Third Round in years gone by, comes around. Unlike its snobby counterparts down South, all the clubs are likely to field their strongest available line up and view progression to the next round as a success rather than a hindrance. There will be goals, drama, entertainment and controversy along the way with the added ingredient that David will overcome Goliath in one or two matches.
Thirty two teams, one aim – the Road to Hampden is well and truly open!