Who shone brightest and who had days to forget on Scottish Cup semi-final weekend?
Quick disclaimer before we start: there are players who probably should be in this list but aren’t because their performances were either talked up or derided in the “five things...” articles written about both matches. So, if you want the best of James Tavernier and worst of Scott Brown click here, and if you want to see the literary representation of getting blood from a stone then access the Dundee United v Hibs article here.
Barrie McKay (Rangers)
I’ve said this multiple times on the website before, but I’ve still to lose my sense of childlike wonder whenever I think of it so it’s worth repeating once again - this time last year, Barrie McKay couldn’t get a game for Grant Murray’s Raith Rovers. That’s not the seemingly invincible Raith Rovers currently managed by Ray MacKinnon. No, I’m talking about the mediocre, middle of the division, heading nowhere fast version of Kirkcaldy’s finest. McKay spent a season there on loan and he was just terrible. On Sunday, in the most hyped Scottish football game of the past decade, McKay was the best player on the park. This was nothing new, he’s been excellent all season and could conceivable be granted player of the year honours on a team where the right back has scored 14 goals. He also netted an incredible strike and made Scott Brown look very old while doing so.
Kieran Tierney (Celtic)
Question: Is it more a negative reflection of the Celtic side that their best player, outside of Leigh Griffiths, is a teenager, or is it more a positive reflection of the talents of Tierney? You can answer that in the comments in between posts of incorrectly guessing which team I support (it’s hardly a secret).
Earlier this season a friend of mine and I got into a debate about whether Tierney is a bigger prospect now than Andy Robertson was at Dundee United. Since I have an unwavering man-crush on Robertson I thought this was a scandalous suggestion and admonished him for having the nerve to even consider it. A couple of months later, however, I’m beginning to concede that he’s right. Does Tierney ever have a bad game? Against Rangers he handled everything that came down his side defensively and, while it took him a while to get going further forward, he still got himself an assist.
Conrad Logan (Hibs)
He’s almost a winner and a loser. Winner in the sense that he had one of the best debut performances in recent Scottish football history, at Hampden, in a Scottish semi-final. And a loser because he opened up the papers on Sunday to see every mentioning his, erm, shape. He also wouldn’t have been too pleased to know his manager plans on bringing Mark Oxley right back into the fold for tomorrow night’s match against Rangers. This is an early indication that, despite getting them there almost literally single-handedly, Logan has little chance of playing in the final. It’s a shame because he put in such an excellent performance in the semi, and a shame for Hibs’ fans because Oxley is not that good.
Andy Halliday (Rangers)
He is the poster boy for the new Rangers (that’s not a ‘new club’ dig - don’t put me on your forums). Like many of the signings last summer his pedigree, or lack thereof, raised a few eyebrows but he’s more than justified the move. What’s more, he’s such an unashamedly staunch fan that it’s almost impossible for the Rangers faithful not to love him. A feeling greatly helped by the fact he, along with Jason Holt, made Scott Brown and Nir Bitton look completely average for 120 minutes on Sunday.
This past eight weeks have been a nightmare for the Easter Road faithful. Losing the League Cup final, handing the title race on a platter to Rangers, falling behind Falkirk in the race for second, everything that could have went wrong seems to have. That is except the Scottish Cup run.
The game against Dundee United showed little to indicate that they have hope of bettering Rangers in May’s final but, as we’ve seen from them already, a lot can change in that time. They will also be buoyed by the fact that for Rangers there will be no Dominic Ball, no Billy King, no Michael O’Halloran, potentially no Harry Forrester and Martyn Waghorn might be playing in his first game after a three-month injury. It should also be noted that Hibs have beaten Rangers already this season.
As the games pile up and the team looks increasingly tired, their hope of getting out of the Ladbrokes Championship this season is decreasing. However, May’s final, a one-off game, could represent their best hope of ending the 114-year wait for the Scottish Cup trophy. Fans are saying they would rather have promotion than a Scottish Cup win this year but, really, who are you kidding?
Mixu Paatelainen (Dundee United)
United fans have more than had enough with the Finnish boss, with a recent thread on the United fans’ forum asking if he is the worst manager they’ve ever had. While that’s the usual sort of overreaction you expect from any fans’ site, it still indicates that Mixu really hasn’t done much of a job since taking over from Jackie McNamara.
The latest incident for the United fans to get all hot and bothered about occurred halfway through Saturday’s semi-final. After stepping out of defence to challenge a high ball, Coll Donaldson immediately grabbed for his hamstring. He limped on for a couple of minutes, went off the field for treatment and then came back on. After around 10 minutes or so he decided he couldn’t run it off so he hit the deck, where he took off both of his shin pads - a pretty good indication that his day was over. The referee came along and instructed him to leave the park as it appeared United had a player (Henri Anier) ready to go anyway. Meanwhile, Mixu, instead of frantically trying to get a replacement ready, was having a chat with Anier and then one of his assistants. Once he realised Donaldson was walking off he went spare at the 21-year-old. It was clear to everyone in attendance that Donaldson was struggling and yet Mixu seemed caught completely off guard.
Mixu also deserves a place on this side of the article for Guy Demel coming on for Donaldson and improving the team immediately. Why hasn’t Demel been used at centre back more often? The defence was the best its looked all season with Demel alongside Sean Dillon.
John Rankin (Dundee United)
Rankin said that United were fired up by Jason Cummings’ miss because they thought it was disrespectful. In the context, it’s quite an odd thing to say. They still lost the match. Usually that’s the type of revelation made after a heroic win, as you explain how you overcame the odds. What if Cummings had just scored the penalty? Would there be no extra motivation? Would Hibs have won by about five goals? Also, it seems that Cummings received an extraordinary amount of criticism for the act. He missed the Panenka, but he’s not the only player in the world to duff it up. Zinedine Zidane came awfully close to doing exactly the same in the 2006 World Cup final as the ball struck the underside of the crossbar and barely crossed the line. Funnily enough, there wasn’t much chat from the Italians being further motivated by the act, probably seeing as it was a World Cup final and it’s not possible to be motivated further by how an opponent chooses to take his penalty.
Ronny Deila (Celtic)
Custer’s land stand. The remaining few people who thought Deila deserved to stay in the Celtic job - they could probably all fit into black cab - argued that it wasn’t fair he should be getting so much criticism for failing to get Celtic into the Champions League two years running. After all, Neil Lennon had struggled badly in Europe in each of his first two seasons. The reason Lennon wasn’t under the type of pressure Deila is now is because the former Celtic midfielder launched a brave challenge on Rangers in his first season before winning the league in his second.
Rangers not being in the league has been a stick to beat Deila with, but if you look at it the other way it could be argued that it’s been detrimental to his Celtic career because it’s completely taken the gloss off winning league titles. This current league season, even though it’s universally considered to have been poor, could still see the champions-elect finish on 91 points, a total good enough to finish above Rangers in six of the last seven years prior to liquidation. However, for that defence to properly stand up he needed to show that his side was much better than Mark Warburton’s and that, although trusting him with another Champions League campaign may be risky, he would at least have things under control as far as the league is concerned. He didn’t do that. Even worse than losing to Rangers on Sunday was the fact that they totally deserved it.