Box-office Scottish Cup fifth round weekend throws up all manner of storylines: Brown at Ibrox, Warnock bow and fixture with 90s vibes
The fifth round of the FA Cup is a mess. Thanks goodness for the Scottish Cup, which returns this weekend with intrigue aplenty.
Spread out across three weekday nights at the end of this month, the last 16 stage of the FA Cup appears to be the victim of sabotage. It has certainly been robbed of much of its appeal.
No one can claim the Scottish Cup is resistant to outside – and inside – meddling. Who can forget the decision by the SFA only last season to switch the final kick off to evening to accommodate the equivalent showpiece occasion in England? But the competition still manages to retain much of its charm as we approach the 150th anniversary of the first team to lift the world's oldest football trophy next month.
That is Queen’s Park’s claim to fame, although sadly they are not one of the teams still involved in the current competition. Callum Davidson’s side take on Dunfermline in a Championship clash on Saturday afternoon. They have other ambitions, mainly moving up the league. For others, including Cove Rangers and Bonnyrigg Rose, the dream of Scottish Cup glory is still alive on a more traditional fifth round ‘weekend’, at least when compared with England.
Okay, so Morton and Motherwell played on Friday night. But what an appetising start that was. And with four 3pm fixtures on Saturday afternoon – Rangers take on Scott Brown’s Ayr United at 5.30pm – we are being spoiled on a day packed with so much promise.
The last time Duncan Ferguson was involved at this stage of the competition it was still known as the fourth round, and he was the costliest player in British football. Despite that tag, or maybe because of it, he remained an unused sub in Rangers' 6-0 win over Alloa Athletic, then of the old Second Division. Ibrox manager Walter Smith did unleash Ally McCoist, who was on the comeback trail from a broken leg. He grabbed a hat-trick against the Wasps en route to the 1994 final, where Rangers lost 1-0 to Dundee United, Ferguson's former side. The tall striker came on in the second half but struggled to make an impact.
Big Dunc has not enjoyed the best of luck in the tournament – he was subbed off at half-time due to a head knock in the classic final of 1991, when United lost 4-3 against Motherwell. He certainly won't be leaving any prize assets on the bench on Saturday afternoon against Hibs as he seeks to take his Inverness Caledonian Thistle team into the last eight, weather permitting.
The last time the Easter Road side headed up the A9 it proved a wasted journey as their clash with Ross County bit the dust due to a waterlogged pitch. Providing the game goes ahead, amid concerns about snow this time, Hibs know they – or more specifically, manager Nick Montgomery – cannot afford any slip ups in a tie that would appear most likely to provide a shock, even if it has been strangely overlooked for live coverage.
So, too, has Aberdeen v Bonnyrigg Rose, although that would likely not have been the case had Neil Warnock been appointed as manager a couple of weeks earlier. He has already admitted that one of the main draws to convince him to come out of retirement at the age of 75 is the prospect of finally winning a cup. Should he do so with Aberdeen, he'll have left an indelible mark in his short-term spell at the club. Indeed, it would merit re-naming Union Street after him.
Warnock was still a young man – well, 41-years-old – and in his first flush of management, at Notts County, the last time Aberdeen lifted the Scottish Cup at Hampden Park in 1990 following a penalty shootout victory over Celtic. He tasted success at Wembley the same month when guiding County to a Third Division play-off final victory over Tranmere.
But a major trophy still eludes Warnock. Fate sees him land in Aberdeen four games from glory, the first of which is a seemingly straightforward tie against the Rosey Posey. But then this is Aberdeen. And this is the Scottish Cup. With reduced admission prices, Pittodrie will nevertheless be a buoyant place to be as the home fans prepare to welcome Warnock, who says he has already been mobbed in his new local supermarket.
Scott Brown can’t expect such a warm response when he emerges at Ibrox in his new guise as Ayr United manager. The former Celtic skipper hasn’t got much else to prove – he even scored at Ibrox the last time he played there, for Aberdeen in a 2-2 draw in 2021. He will relish playing the pantomime villain again, particularly if it helps take the pressure off his players. Ayr face a mighty task to progress and might have to be content with two wins against Queen’s Park, the latest of which was Brown’s first game in charge, when it comes to Hampden glory this season.
Paul Hartley’s Cove Rangers head to Kilmarnock and have no reason to be fearful of the plastic pitch, since they play on one too. The Premiership hosts, however, have form on their side – just one defeat in 11. Partick Thistle entertain Livingston at Firhill and are entitled to be quietly confident against a team operating low on confidence. Holders Celtic face one of the toughest tests in Scottish football at present away to St Mirren on Sunday.
If you can remember the 90s, you weren’t there – or at least Hearts supporters of a certain age will wish they were not there for two Scottish Cup semi-final defeats against Airdrie in 1992 and 1995. The stats site Soccerbase takes a very strict view when it comes to previous meeting between these two clubs, claiming they’ve met just twice before. But of course, liquidation events notwithstanding, that isn’t true. The teams became fierce rivals after Alex MacDonald became manager after being sacked by Hearts, bringing several much-loved Hearts players with him.
As many as 12 games took place between them in the first half of the 90s, four in the Scottish Cup, with Airdrie unbeaten in all of them. So much has happened to both clubs since then and yet the fixture retains an undeniable frisson, more so when it comes, as it does at teatime on Sunday in North Lanarkshire, on the road to Hampden.
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