Excitement has been building for the William Hill Scottish Cup fourth-round and it kicks off tomorrow. Here is what to look out for over the weekend.
Can Hibs defend the cup . . . and win promotion
The last team to defend the Scottish Cup was Rangers back in 2009 when they edged out Falkirk 1-0 to follow their engrossing 3-2 win against Queen of the South the previous year. The last eight Scottish Cups have been shared by seven teams. Celtic are the only team to win it twice in that period.
Hibs will not only have a fight on their hands to retain the trophy, but to simply put up a competent defence of it. Celtic were the only defending champions to even get close to a return to the final, losing out in the last four in 2012. While Heart of Midlothian were the first side to get knocked out in the same year as they won it.
Fortunately for Hibs they have been handed a rosy cup tie as they make the short jaunt across the city to face junior side Bonnyrigg Rose at Tynecastle. A plum draw.
Neil Lennon has talked passionately about wanting to experience that Scottish Cup winning feeling with Hibs, but promotion maintains the aim. If the Championship title race tightens Hibs will place most of their focus in to their league form.
However, if they can get past Bonnyrigg and then stretch their six-point advantage in the league before the next round the double could well be on. Although some fans may feel the emotion, the energy expended, could be too much after last year’s celebrations.
Everything is Rosey Posey
Bonnyrigg Rose are the story of the fourth round. The Rose, from the McBookie.com Super League, have sold out their 5,000 allocation for their ‘home’ tie. There are a number of narratives running through the team. Manager Robbie Horn is a Hearts fan, as are a number of players. There are players who have come through the ranks of both Hearts and Hibs. And of course the venue.
Bookies are offering odds of 25/1 for the Rose to emerge victorious. There’ll be some among the board who would prefer the draw, but such odds are even a bit short for the team to pull off an almighty shock.
For the fans and management it is about enjoying the occasion. For some players it is a chance to put themselves in the shop window, for others it may be the last chance on the big stage.
They will embrace the match the same way they have embraced the spotlight in the lead up to the game. It’s there to be enjoyed.
Hearts of old v Hearts of new
It will be a meeting of Hearts past and present at Kirkcaldy on Sunday afternoon as Raith Rovers welcome the Jambos to Stark’s Park. Five members of the Rovers squad have links to Hearts, while both manager Gary Locke and assistant Darren Jackson have pulled on the maroon jersey.
No link is stronger than that of Rudi Skacel. A legend in Gorgie following two Scottish Cup victories. However, his talents are waning and he has attracted controversy in the build-up with regards to the reception he received on his last visit to Easter Road with the Fife side. Although nothing will stop him getting a hero’s reception from the large travelling support.
The potential for unbearable sycophancy may be too much for Rovers fans. Especially as the team are currently on a terrible run – nine without a win – with suspicion surrounding Locke growing each week. Many in the home support have been irked by the club offering a matchday package, clearly aimed at Hearts fans, where they can meet and greet Skacel and Locke after the match.
Cathro’s squad takes shape
Ian Cathro has used the winter break to work with the players and re-shape his squad. Four players have exited with four coming in. Yet, the squad still looks thin and unbalanced.
Hearts have sold out the away allocation and fans will be eager to see the new boys in action. But their main focus will be on a sustained cup run, something which hasn’t been achieved since the club last won the cup in 2012.
Due to the connections there are a number of potential plot scenarios but any which involve Hearts exiting at the hands of lower league opposition will lead to a long, underwhelming end to the season.
Can The Wee Rovers pull off a shock and stop the treble
In a word, no. However, there is always a chance. Always. No matter how slim. It would have been more interesting if Darren Young was leading his Albion Rovers side out at the less than salubrious Cliftonhill. The Coatbridge ground would not have been as much of a leveller as it would in the past, but it certainly would have opened the eyes of a few in the Celtic squad.
Rovers will need to rely on the experience of manager Young to help guide them through the opening stages. The longer they can keep it tight, the better chance they give themselves. We can venture deep in to the book of clichés, yet we all know the end result.
This is the first step on the last leg of Celtic’s bid for the treble. Brendan Rodgers’ side have far too much quality, guile, know-how to trip up here.
Rangers’ only chance of silverware
It has been a lean spell for Rangers since administration and their ultimate demise. Fans had been accustomed to success, almost yearly. Success was expected.
Through their travails in the lower tiers they have rarely threatened the cup competitions. There was a League Cup semi-final and Scottish Cup final. Both occasions they faltered. Fans are desperate for silverware which isn’t the Challenge Cup, and they are desperate to end Celtic’s pursuit of the aforementioned treble.
Standing in their way is a Motherwell side eager to repeat the feat of the class of 1991 who produced one of the great finals. The Steelmen have been easy meat for opposition in cup competitions in recent years and they’ve only won once at Ibrox in their last 33 visits.
Look away now Dundee fans, you know what is about to come. Hibs ending their 114-year wait for the Scottish Cup means the hex switches to Dens Park. The clock counting up has Dundee at 106 years.
Hartley has had stronger squads than the one he currently possesses, while more fabled teams of Dundee’s past have also failed. But there are a number of examples where clubs don’t have to have their strongest squad. Fortune plays a bigger role in cup competitions and fortune will have to be Dundee’s key player if they are to end the hoodoo. They’ve already been given a helping hand with a home draw against hapless St Mirren.
Thistle and the cup don’t go
The last time Partick Thistle made the quarter-finals they took Rangers to a replay but were knocked out at Firhill. That was 2008. For their last semi-final appearance you need to go back further, to 2002. The Jags were once again defeated by Rangers. Playing that day were current management duo Alan Archibald and Scott Paterson, as well as goalkeeping coach Kenny Arthur.
How dearly they would love to deliver the club’s first Scottish Cup success since 1921. The Jags boss has built a strong squad, the best he has had at his disposal. While there are concerns about relegation, similar to more than half the clubs in the top-flight, the fans are pining for a run to the last four at least, more so than a top six finish.
They’ve been given a good start. Home tie, Highland League opposition, what could go wrong?
A shock in the north
Scanning the fixtures, one tie stands out as having the largest potential for shock. A Highland derby, a struggling Premiership side travelling to a team third in League Two, links between the clubs . . . *rubs hands together*
All the ingredients are there ready to be mixed together. All that is required is some wind and rain. It’s the north of Scotland so there is every possibility. Without doing City a disservice, if the shock occurs it will be due to another anaemic Caley Thistle display.
ICT have struggled of late under Richie Foran with the winter break a necessity. Too many big players are under-performing and too many mistakes are being made from the side of the pitch. Confidence is low.
Elgin, who have a better record away from Borough Briggs in the league this season, will smell blood. Get the defence turning and prevent Iain Vigurs and Greg Tansey getting on the ball and ICT will become rattled. For ICT they just need to scrap and fight their way through the tie and try to build confidence.
Are Aberdeen the best bet to stop Celtic?
Derek McInnes’ side have been handed an ideal tie. At home against the team bottom of League One. Although the dreaded change of manager has happened with Stevie Farrell being appointed on the eve of the game.
That should not be a deterrent or an excuse for Aberdeen failing to progress. Having tasted success in the League Cup, as well as disappointment, McInnes wants to replicate the former and help banish the memories of the latter in the Scottish Cup.
Celtic currently look unstoppable but a trip to Pittodrie in a later round would really test their mettle. For Aberdeeen to do so they will need to keep Jonny Hayes, who is among a full-strength squad available to McInnes. Farrell has been thrown in to the fire and he will be relishing every second of it.