Wednesday, May 12, 2010

County must escape shadow of history

Ross County won't just be playing Dundee United on Saturday at Hampden they'll be playing history.

Sorry, of course they will just be playing Dundee United. But, aborted cliche apart, the size of the task does look unenviable.

We've become used in the last few years to the Scottish Cup throwing up romantic tales of derring-do from lower league sides.

Ross County are the third side from outside the top flight to contest the final in the last five years and the fifth side in the last 16 finals.

(Starting with Airdrie in 1994/95, we've had Falkirk in 1997, Gretna in 2006 and Queen of the South in 2008.)

So it works out roughly as a lower division side once every three years. Big deal?

Perhaps, but before Airdrie in 1995 you have to go all the way back to East Fife in 1938 to find a lower division side in the final, a feat they'd also managed in 1927.*

We're living in a golden era for Scottish Cup minnows. And that's nice because there's not much else golden about at the moment.

The problem for Ross County is translating the romance of the road to Hampden into glory. How to convert the goodwill into a win?

In the long history of the cup only that 1938 East Fife side that has gone to the final from the lower divisions and left with the Scottish Cup.

The Fife drew 1-1 with Kilmarnock before winning the replay 4-2 in front of more than 92000 fans:
A crowd of 91,710 turned out for the replay on Wednesday 27th April. After the Fifers had managed to hold out during an early Killie onslaught, McKerrell unleashed a fierce shot at the other end of the park to put the ‘underdogs’ ahead. Within six minutes, however, the First Division club had turned the match around and went in at half-time 2-1 ahead.

Despite further pressure from Kilmarnock early in the second half, East Fife managed to square the match once again just before the hour-mark, when McLeod scored with an overhead kick. When the final whistle sounded, the score was still level at two goals apiece and the match went into extra time. As the additional 30 minutes progressed, East Fife slowly gained the upper hand using the wings to great advantage and soon had the Kilmarnock goal under severe pressure.

Sensing that the underdogs were about to have their day, the crowd roared encouragement and, with ten minutes remaining, Miller scored to send the black and gold bunnets high in the air. With the Fifers in total control as the light began to fade, McKerrell scored a fourth to put the result beyond doubt and the Scottish Cup was on its way to Methil!
Omens for Ross County? Like Dundee United, Kilmarnock knocked Rangers out on the way to the final.

And like Ross County, East Fife's cup run caused them to run out of steam in the league. Like County they ended up finishing fifth and missing out on promotion.

Spooky.

Well, maybe not. But when you're playing against the weight of history and Dundee United (slipped the cliche in after all), you'll take all the help you can get.

*Queen's Park weren't in the top flight when they beat Celtic in the 1892/93 final. But nor were they a lower division club. Having refused to join the league set-up Queen's Park were more like a specialist cup side!