Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Hampden bound?

A quick preview of the two League Cup semi finals that take place tonight and tomorrow:

Hearts v St Mirren

Television scheduling and the arrival of an Irishman in Glasgow have probably combined to overshadow tonight’s first semi final of the Co-operative Insurance Cup.

But both Hearts and St Mirren will fancy their chances of progressing to the final and giving their fans a day in the Hampden sun. Which would provide some recompense for spending this evening at a freezing Fir Park.

Csabo Lazlo had apparently already discharged most of his media duties in the build up before he got the boot from Tynecastle, giving some indication of the haste with which Jim Jefferies was brought back into the fold.

Not that the boost of Jim’s return was enough to give his team any momentum on Saturday as they went down to St Johnstone. Much has been written about Hearts’ lack of consistency and thrust this season and it’s probably safe to surmise that a quiet transfer window will do little to alleviate those problems, new old manager or not.

St Mirren come into the semi final on the back of a four match losing run which includes a 1-0 loss at Tynecastle in January. That said they matched third placed Hibs for most of the match on Saturday only to lose out to that cruellest of blows – the injury time own goal.

This one looks too close to call. Neither team have much form to call on and they both struggle to score goals (St Mirren 21 league goals from 22 games, Hearts 20 from 23). In their first meeting of the season St Mirren won 2-1 at home, in the return Hearts won 1-0.

Certainly the closeness of previous encounters suggests that the eight point gap between the teams in the league does not point to a massive gulf in class. The nine booking in those clashes would also suggest that we can expect a certain robustness in the play this evening.

This might not be a vintage night for the neutral. I fancy St Mirren to nick it by a goal in 90 minutes. If they don’t, penalties loom and then I’d have to back Hearts.

Rangers v St Johnstone

Rangers will have been relieved to come through the transfer window relatively unscathed. Not for the first time rumours of an impending Ibrox Armageddon have proved unfounded.

And, unsurprisingly, they are overwhelming favourites to win the second semi and stay on course for what would be one of the most unlikely trebles.

Despite that St Johnstone have proved themselves to be a bit of a cup team the last few seasons and they’ll be keen to build on that reputation as they continue to establish themselves back in the SPL.

Although the season’s two head to heads have seen Rangers take the spoils (2-1 in Perth and 3-0 at Ibrox) the feeling remains that SPL teams are capable of getting a result against the league leaders. If Rangers have an off night, if St Johnstone can stick to their plan and carry a touch of luck then anything is possible.

Remember as well that it was only a couple of years ago that Rangers were taken the distance before sneaking past a First Division St Johnstone at this stage in the Scottish Cup.

So, on paper, this might be a foregone conclusion. But I wouldn’t be massively surprised if the Saints manage to pull off a shock.