May 21st, 2016. In the dying minutes of the Scottish Cup final, having only equalised with ten minutes of the game remaining, David Gray headed the winning goal in dramatic fashion. As the scenes of jubilation spilled out of the stands and onto the pitch, everyone watching that day knew we were witnessing history. Back then, it was because Hibernian had finally ended their 114 year wait to lift the Scottish Cup. Little did we know though that it would be the last time a club other than Celtic would win a domestic trophy for nearly five years!
1,744 days later, either Livingston or St Johnstone will win the Scottish League Cup and finally end the unprecedented stranglehold that we have witnessed throughout the quadruple treble years. Indeed, it’s the end of an era in the East End of Glasgow as Rangers will almost certainly be crowned league winners within the next few weeks too – the first time in ten years that Celtic won’t be the champions.
If you consider that even that Scottish Cup final five years ago ended with green and white ribbons on the trophy, you actually have to go back to March 13th, 2016 to when Ross County lifted the League Cup against that same Hibernian team to see a trophy dressed in a different colour!
It has, of course, been an incredibly odd tournament this season. Played out in front of empty stadiums due to the covid-19 pandemic, it’s a shame that the fans of these two teams won’t have a chance to see their team lift silverware. Livingston have only once tasted such success, that victory coming over Hibernian in the 2004 League Cup final, whilst St Johnstone have never won this trophy and only won their first silverware by beating Dundee United in the Scottish Cup final of 2014.
It’s true that these two teams may well have a much smaller fan base than many others, but it’s doesn’t mean those that they do have are any less important than the tens of thousands of Celtic fans who have witnessed the successes of recent seasons. Indeed, when you are so used to success like that it’s perhaps even more important to you when you are not.
But it’s not just the strange atmosphere that these games have been played in. The scheduling of the tournament due to the restrictions saw the group stages played out later than in recent years, and this final is back in the Spring whereas all of the previous four that Celtic won took place in the autumn.
The results themselves have been fairly unusual too. Kilmarnock’s record has a couple of 3-0 defeats due to them being badly affected by covid within their squad and being unable to fulfil their fixtures. Given they won the games they did play, who knows what they might have been able to do had they been able to fulfil those two fixtures. Another eye popping set of results from the group stages was the 3-1 win for Annan Athletic and the 2-1 win for Stranraer, both over Hamilton Accies.
When the knockout stages came around, it was pretty much a run of losing the favourite to lift the trophy in each round! The holders Celtic ended their hopes of matching their 1960s predecessors by winning the trophy five seasons running as they bowed out at the first attempt with a 2-0 home defeat to Ross County. Then in the quarter finals, the extraordinarily high flying Rangers suffered their one and only defeat so far this season away to St Mirren in the quarter final – given they are unbeaten in league after thirty games and are unbeaten in Europe after four qualifying rounds, six group matches and a last thirty two tie, St Mirren’s feat is perhaps all the more remarkable. Yet neither Ross County nor St Mirren could follow these victories up the following round, and that’s despite the fact St Mirren had also taken out Aberdeen in the second round before they saw off Rangers.
Unlike the Glasgow teams, Hibernian reached the semi final and took on the mantle of overwhelming favourites, only to be ripped apart 3-0 by St Johnstone. City rivals Hearts, with a point to prove from the Championship after last season’s controversial Premiership ending, ironically fell in the second round to Championship strugglers Alloa Athletic.
It’s probably a good thing then that neither St Johnstone nor Livingston are really seen as favourites to win the final. Bookies odds have them both neck a neck, so they’re clearly taking no gambles there and I’m sure both teams are thankful for that!
A month ago, Livingston’s unbeaten run would possibly have seen them as favourites but their results since reaching the final haven’t been quite as good as they would have hoped. That unbeaten run came to an end after fourteen games, at home to St Johnstone of all teams. A heavy 3-0 defeat to Dundee United and a 1-1 draw with St Mirren have followed since.
St Johnstone lost 2-1 to Celtic after ending Livingston’s unbeaten run – something Livingston didn’t do themselves as that unbeaten run included two draws with the outgoing champions – but they go into this final after a convincing 3-0 win over Motherwell last weekend.
Whoever comes out on top in this final will obviously have deserved it. St Johnstone saw off Dundee United, Peterhead, Kelty Hearts and Brechin City in the group stages – despite losing the penalty shootout to Dundee United following a goalless draw. They then defeated Motherwell and Dunfermline in the knockout stages before the aforementioned win over Hibernian.
Livingston won all four games in the group matches against Alloa Athletic, Edinburgh City, Airdrie and Stenhousemuir. They then defeated Ayr United and Ross County before the narrow win over St Mirren in the semi final.
Yes, neither of them had to beat Celtic or Rangers to get here. But then again Livingston beat both of the teams that did just that. It really doesn’t matter who you beat on the day, only that you beat them. Its the romance of the cup, it’s why it’s a far more realistic prospect for teams to possibly get their hands on silverware than something like the league might be. That is clearly the case for both Livingston and St Johnstone, and one of them will see their colours finally replacing the green and white we’ve all become used to seeing.
Good luck to both teams!