The Scottish Cup returns this weekend with 16 teams all dreaming about playing at Hampden in the May sunshine and picking up the famous old trophy. With the added incentive of this year’s winners being guaranteed group stage European football next season, this year’s competition could be the most competitive yet.
The most mouth-watering of all the ties will be the highly anticipated Old Firm clash between league champions Rangers and current cup holders Celtic. The green side of Glasgow will be hoping to finish the season on a high after a disappointing campaign so far but an in-form Rangers will prove to be a tough test for John Kennedy and Scott Brown, who will be desperate for one last trophy before departing the Hoops this summer.
Rangers star and Columbian international Alfredo Morelos will be looking to add another medal to his Scottish Premiership gong before a potential big-money move in the summer and the likes of Glen Kamara, Filip Helander and Borna Barisic will be out to impress their respective national team coaches ahead of the Euro’s. Steven Gerrard could be without injured captain James Tavernier for the crucial tie which should see youngster Nathan Patterson retain his place in the team.
Stranraer is the lowest-ranked team still in the competition in terms of league position and will be hoping for a cup upset when Jack Ross’s Hibernian travel from the capital to Dumfries and Galloway Hibs, who won the cup in 2016, will be looking to improve on last seasons semi-final defeat. With the winner of this tie taking on either Motherwell or Greenock Morton in the quarter-finals, Hibs will see this as a great opportunity to reach another Scottish Cup final.
Motherwell themselves, who last won the cup in 1991, will see the Scottish Cup as a route into Europe, with the winners of the cup guaranteed group stage football next season, either in the Europa League or the new Europa conference, depending on play-off results. Devante Cole and Allan Campbell have continued to impress this season under Graham Alexander and should prove too strong for their Championship rivals.
Aberdeen and Livingston offer the only other top-flight game. Livingston, who was defeated in the League Cup final earlier in the season, has suffered a dip in form recently, but David Martindale will still consider this a successful season after a top half of the table finish in the league to match the league cup final.
Another strong showing in the Scottish Cup could yet make this one of Livingstons greatest ever campaigns. Aberdeen’s top goalscorer Lewis Ferguson will be hoping he and his teammates can impress new boss Stephen Glass ahead of his arrival in the summer, a Scottish Cup and European football will certainly make the new gaffer a happy man.
Elsewhere Forfar visits Dundee United who themselves haven’t won the cup since 2010. Lawrence Shankland will be hoping to fire United into the quarter-finals with Livingston or Aberdeen awaiting the winners. League cup winners St Johnstone host Clyde. The winners of that tie will then be away to one half of the Old Firm in the quarter-finals.
St Mirren host promotion hopefuls Inverness Caledonian Thistle, who famously knocked out John Barnes Celtic in 2000 when they were just a part-time side. Kilmarnock is at home to Montrose in the final tie. The Ayrshire side, now managed by Tommy Wright, would love a repeat of their famous 1997 Scottish cup win but will be wary that a cup upset can happen, anywhere and at any time.
With the Scotland squad for the upcoming suspended Euro’s still to be announced the competitive nature of this years, Scottish Cup will provide many players a platform to try and impress Steve Clarke. A lot of young players will no doubt embrace the challenge and throw themselves into contention of making the squad and the club managers will be using that as an added incentive to achieve cup success.