Premier Sports Cup kick-off: Hearts' long journey, local Fife rivalry and limited upset options

It’s back with a ball – senior Scottish football returned to competitive action last night with the opening fixtures of the Premier Sports Cup, and there was expected to be a 13-game fixture card this afternoon for the newly-named league cup competition.

Tosh McKinlay (L) and Stephen Craigan are pictured as the draw is made for the first round of the 2021/22 Premier Sports Cup. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)
Tosh McKinlay (L) and Stephen Craigan are pictured as the draw is made for the first round of the 2021/22 Premier Sports Cup. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

Friday night football is the plan for Edinburgh City this season and they kicked off against Hamilton last night, as former Hibs and Rangers midfielder Kevin Thomson did likewise with his senior coaching career, hosting Dundee United in his managerial debut at Kelty Hearts.

However games involving Morton, and last season's semi-finalists St Mirren have been called off with covid concerns.

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European qualifiers Rangers, Celtic, Hibs, Aberdeen and the current trophy holders St Johnstone will enter the competition at a later stage, leaving 2021 runners-up Livingston as the highest ranked club in the competition’s group stage – and they open the campaign against one of the lowest, Brechin City, this afternoon.

East Kilbride host Kilmarnock (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

Andy Kirk took over at Glebe Park following the club’s relegation into the Highland league and the tie sees the two teams furthest apart in the league ladder meet in Group D – which also includes a regional rivalry in Fife between two neighbouring sides – Cowdenbeath and Raith Rovers, separated by just eight miles.

Regionalised

To encourage more derbies like that one, and reduce travel times, the Premier Sports Cup draw was regionalised in a north-south split – but the longest trips of the weekend befall Hearts and Brora Rangers

The Highland league champions and conquerors of the Jambos last season head to Montrose – 172 miles away – for their opening Group C fixture while Robbie Neilson’s Premiership side make a 163-mile trip north to Peterhead in Group A.

The Scottish League Cup will be known as the Premier Sports Cup. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

Each is more than double the combined distance for the two fixtures which begin south-section Group F as Annan Athletic head 80 miles north to Airdrie, and Queen’s Park plot a similar course and distance in the opposite direction to play Queen of the South in Dumfries.

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Few will complain of the trips though with football finally back – with more supporters too.

Motherwell and Dundee fans must wait for their Premiership sides to kick-off – and so too will Ross County. Malky Mackay has been denied his Scottish managerial debut after a covid outbreak at the Highland club forced the forfeit of their tie against Forfar – a scenario which the Loons suffered in last season’s competition.

Brora Rangers have one of the longest trips (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

While a 3-0 win for Gary Irvine’s team against the Staggies will look at first glance on paper as a cup upset, there are few other possibilities for a particular shock in this opening round of group fixtures.

Cup shocks?

Kilmarnock’s trip to an East Kilbride side fortified by experienced signings like Chris Millar, Jamie Stevenson and ex-Killie striker Lee Miller, could be the most treacherous for Tommy Wright’s relegated and rebuilt squad in a southern section which also includes Morton and Stranraer in Group G.

A particularly difficult game to predict falls at Firhill in the only all-Championship match of the weekend. Partick Thistle, buoyed by promotion from League One and a significant shift in form towards the end of last season host Dunfermline under new manager Peter Grant.

Elsewhere Elgin host Arbroath, Stirling head to Cove Rangers and Ayr United are in Coatbridge to play Albion Rovers. All kick-offs 3pm.

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