IT is bracing to hear Dumbarton manager Ian Murray claim his team would have had an evens chance of reaching the Scottish Cup semi-finals had the last eight draw sent them to play away to Rangers instead of Aberdeen.
The emboldened nature of 32-year-old Murray, SPFL Championship manager of the month for January and one of the up-and-coming coaches of the Scottish game, reflects the fact that in Scottish football ever more teams are seeing genuine possibilities to make an impression on the cup competitions.
And so they should. If either League Cup finalists Aberdeen or Inverness Caledonian Thistle do not complete a cup double by also winning the Scottish, six consecutive knockout tournaments in Scotland will have produced different winners for the first time since the League Cup’s inception in 1946-47. And, if that were to occur, and Rangers or Dundee United did not lift the Scottish Cup, then the past ten seasons would have brought cup triumphs for nine different clubs. No earlier corresponding period has thrown up such variety. The widening of the franchise when it comes to cup outcomes is an evident phenomenon for Murray.
“It’s great to see the trophies being spread out in Scottish football,” says Murray, who spent his playing career with Hibernian and Rangers. “When I first started, Celtic and Rangers were totally dominant. Celtic, in particular, were fantastic under Martin O’Neill. There was a lot more money back then and they had top players.
“The Old Firm aren’t attracting the kind of players they once had. If you take Celtic out of the Premiership right now, it would be a really tight league. It’s the same in the Championship, Dundee have a bigger budget than anyone else but they’re not running away with it. The quality of player attracted to the part-time sides like us this season has been excellent.
“For entertainment, our league is terrific. I couldn’t pick a winner because I haven’t seen any side who stand out.
“Back in the day, you thought Celtic, Rangers, Aberdeen, Hibs and Hearts but no-one outside of those clubs will win a trophy. Now you’ve got St Johnstone and Inverness – who could get to two finals and have gone completely under the radar because everyone is talking about Aberdeen.
“Chances are there for everyone – even ourselves, Raith, Albion Rovers, who are in the last eight of the Scottish Cup. I can’t remember the last time so many from the lower leagues were involved at this stage.”
Having driven Dumbarton to the fringes of the play-offs in the Championship, and to the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup for the first time in 34 years, Murray will not discount his team’s chances at Pittodrie. And that is true even when he considers that this is the toughest draw his part-time team could have been handed. His attitude would have been very different if his Championship team had been paired up with the League One winners-elect Rangers.
“I’d have no problem going to Ibrox at the moment with the team that we have,” he says.
“I’d have put that as a 50-50 game, but it’s a game you can lose as well. If you lose, and without being disrespectful to teams like Rangers and Raith Rovers, you’re sitting asking ‘what if?’
“If you go up to Pittodrie and get beaten, you’re saying it was a great run, a great few weeks or a great match. There’s no pressure on us. I think there’d have been a lot more pressure on us going to Ibrox, or certainly Raith or St Johnstone. It’s the same if we get through and draw Rangers in the semi-final, it won’t faze us one bit I don’t think.”