Sunday, March 13, 2011

Scottish Cup: Celtic (Fail) To Weather The Storm?

Ah, the joys of March. Spring has sprung. And it looks a lot like winter.

Two Scottish Cup games scheduled today, weather permitting.

EDIT: And the joys of writing a preview in advance. The weather has done for Celtic's trip to Inverness - the pitch is waterlogged. The game will now be played on Tuesday (or Wednesday) evening - so no Celtic v Hibs this midweek. 

Dundee United v Motherwell

It's clash number four for these two in the first of today's quarter finals.

Motherwell lead the head to head 2-1 with back to back victories in the league and League Cup in October and United winning in the SPL in January.

Since the start of February Motherwell have beaten Celtic, Aberdeen, Hamilton and Stranraer. They've lost to Rangers, St Mirren, Kilmarnock and Inverness.

And that is Stuart McCall's conundrum. Where for art thou consistency?

The Stranraer win came in this competition and followed on from a perfunctory 4-0 win over Dundee.

Dundee United kicked off their bid to retain the cup by squeezing past Ross County on penalties after two goalless draws before beating Hamilton in the last round.

Rearranged fixtures and a number of draws have maybe drawn attention away from United's form in 2011.

In 15 games they have lost only to Celtic and Hearts. For a team eyeing up fourth place that's a fairly handy record.

I'm backing a home win today. But which Motherwell will turn up? I suspect that Stuart McCall doesn't know the answer to that.

And that is the major problem he faces.

Inverness v Celtic

The second of this afternoon's games. The weather forecast indicates a crappy day if not a game threatening day. Reports from Inverness suggest a deterioration.

But I'm no Michael Fish. An 8am pitch inspection may, or may not, reveal all.

Elsewhere in sport today Scotland travel to face England in the Six Nations. Which makes me wonder if football can be as in thrall to the weather as rugby often is.

Because the sort of day forecast in Inverness, - sleety, rainy, windy - is the kind of day that often grants Scotland parity with England.

Will Terry Butcher be saying a few prayers to the weather gods this morning?

Rain or shine it's a daunting task for an Inverness side who have stuttered of late facing a treble tilting Celtic team.

The home side reached the quarter finals with a functional win over Elgin and a demolition of Morton.

Celtic's campaign began with a 2-0 win at Berwick back in January and continued with two little mentioned games against Rangers.

This is the fourth clash of the season between the two. Celtic have won twice, 1-0 back in August in the SPL and a 6-0 win in the Co-operative Insurance Cup.

At Celtic Park in November Inverness charged back from 2-0 down with twenty minutes left to clinch a 2-2 draw.

At the time the result pointed to the potential of a resurgent Inverness and the brittleness at the heart of Neil Lennon's Celtic.

As things have turned out it seems that was something of a red herring.

But cup shocks, as these teams both know, can happen. And Terry Butcher has been keen to stress that his side will have nothing to lose today.

They will, as they say, be free to have a go.

The problem with "having a go" is that it can often lead to you getting walloped. Especially against a Celtic team carrying a rather potent attacking threat.

It will be interesting to see what, if any, impact the absence of Neil Lennon from the touchline has.

My instinct is to say it will have none. But each manager is different and Lennon's presence in the technical area is a hyper, vocal one. It seems hard to imagine that his players don't know he is there and respond to him in games.

In recent weeks Motherwell have taught us a couple of things about these teams.

Celtic aren't invincible and Inverness haven't completely lost the promise they showed earlier in the season.

Still, hard to see past a Celtic win for me. Despite being Lennon-less, despite the weather, despite what I would expect to be a passionate Inverness performance.

An away win for Celtic at the start of a big week.