Former Motherwell manager Stuart McCall believes the odds on the Fir Park club reaching the William Hill Scottish Cup final have been shortened considerably by the absence of suspended Aberdeen trio Graeme Shinnie, Kenny McLean and Shay Logan.
McCall, the last man to lead Motherwell to the final of the tournament, insists the loss of captain Shinnie is especially significant, even comparing his influence on the Dons to that of Scott Brown for Celtic.
“It’s a huge factor,” said McCall as he assessed Saturday’s semi-final showdown between the sides at Hampden. “If it was the other way around and Motherwell were the ones missing three players, I don’t think they would have been able to cope.
“When you look at Aberdeen’s bench from the weekend – Mark Reynolds, Kari Arnason, Gary Mackay-Steven, Adam Rooney and Dominic Ball – that shows what a strong squad they have to cope with it. If it was the other way around I’d make Aberdeen overwhelming favourites.
“But even with a strong squad, this is still a big blow for Aberdeen. Shinnie is like Scott Brown for Celtic, I think he’s that important. He is a leader for them, he drives them on so he will be a big miss.
“McLean can open teams up either with a goal or a pass and Logan has been consistent throughout all his time at Aberdeen. So it’s three big players missing for Aberdeen.
“So I don’t think there is a favourite in the game now because they are such key players for Aberdeen.
“What I would say though is that if it’s going to be a tight game, Aberdeen still have individuals like Mackay-Steven and Ryan Christie who can produce that little bit of magic.
“Motherwell are really focused on their team ethic and working hard while Aberdeen have a couple of individuals who can have a flash of brilliance if it’s really tight.
“But having Shinnie missing is a blow to Aberdeen definitely, for all he gives to the team on the park and inside the dressing room. But they have enough experience with a far stronger squad in terms of depth than Motherwell. It will be interesting to see what Derek McInnes does with a few options to choose from.”
Former Aberdeen striker Scott Booth, who joined McCall at Hampden yesterday on promotional duties ahead of this weekend’s semi-finals, has urged those who replace the banned players for the Dons to embrace their opportunity.
“It’s about players stepping up and that’s what a squad is all about,” said Booth. “I remember I was in a situation where I lost out on playing in the 1995-96 League Cup final for Aberdeen when I got injured three days before it.
“Duncan Shearer was delighted to step in, score and take all the plaudits. That’s the reality of football. You have to roll with the punches. However, to lose three players who are key for Aberdeen is going to be a big ask.
“You’re talking about your captain and a player that creates goals and scores them and they are the types that are so important in a cup semi-final. Shinnie has got that personality in there. The fans love him and the players around him respect him.
“He drives the team forward and it will be tough not having your captain there. I don’t know who should replace him but the manager has to take somebody aside and ask them to do the job for him.
“There is no doubt in games like this you need someone to take control of the middle of the park who can make tackles and get in players’ faces. I think Derek will have his work cut out replacing all three of the suspended players.”
Aberdeen are bidding to reach a fourth major domestic cup final under McInnes but continue to face questions about their mentality on the big occasions on the back of their poor recent record against Celtic and Rangers.
“I don’t think they’re soft-centred but I understand why it can be levelled at them,” added Booth. “Because on the occasions where you’re looking for that big performance on that key day, for one reason or another there has been that bit of inconsistency there and it hasn’t happened.
“I look at Aberdeen and I see them as a strong side with a strong mentality and a coach that gives them that sort of belief and mentality. But on the day it can go wrong for one reason or another. I think it’s quite easy to label teams or players as soft-centred.
“They’re definitely not a side you would say is the finished article because they still need players in key areas to be a top, top side. But I have been impressed with what they have done with the level of player they’ve got.”
l Stuart McCall and Scott Booth were speaking at a William Hill media event. William Hill is the proud sponsor of the Scottish Cup.