Former Aberdeen and Celtic midfielder Paul Hartley believes that the underdogs can have their day at Hampden on Saturday – but only if Derek McInnes’ side can draw first blood.
The former Dundee manager, right, argues that the confidence engendered by Celtic’s 46-game unbeaten domestic sequence under Brendan Rodgers will carry them to their first treble in 16 years if they break the deadlock.
Consequently, he claims Aberdeen’s only hope is to score first and see how the favourites respond to adversity on the big occasion.
“I think it’ll be extremely tight,” he said. “I was at the game at Pittodrie last week [which Celtic won 3-1] when Celtic were excellent for the first ten minutes and Aberdeen were really good for the remaining 80 and could have drawn.
“So I’m anticipating a close contest but I think Aberdeen really need to score first to see how Celtic handle that pressure. Aberdeen are a match for anybody. On their day, they’re as good as anybody with the players they have, especially in the final third of the pitch.
“The pace they possess is a threat to other teams and this has all the makings of a cracking cup final. They are the two best teams in the country.”
Hartley also suggests that Aberdeen’s capitulation in November’s Betfred Cup final will motivate McInnes’ players.
“Aberdeen will be disappointed by how they performed the last time they came to Hampden for a final but they’ve improved since then and I don’t think this match will hold any fear for them,” he said.
“They need to get the first goal, though, just to see how Celtic react to being behind. Once they get their noses in front they’re hard to stop, which their results this season prove.
“But if Aberdeen can open the scoring then it really will be game on.”
Hartley also revealed how both cup final managers reached out to him following his dismissal by Dundee last month, which led to a visit to Lennoxtown.
“It was brilliant, a great experience just to see how Brendan works as a manager and listen to his own experiences of losing his job,” he said. “I spent the whole day up there and it was incredible.
“He texted me. Brendan and Derek were the first people to contact me when I left Dundee and that shows the respect they have for other managers.”