Sunday, April 17, 2011

Scottish Cup: Aberdeen v Celtic

Aberdeen v Celtic.

Four games so far this season and Celtic have racked up an aggregate score of 17-1. They probably just edge it as favourites today.

Coming into the weekend this was seen as the semi-final that would likely turn out the more one sided affair. Then marvellous Motherwell led the sorry Saints on a first half dance at Hampden yesterday.

Can Aberdeen offer us some nerve tingling excitement today?

It’s a tough ask. Aside from a brief revival when Craig Brown arrived as manager this has been another season of underwhelming struggle at Pittodrie.

Their last four league games have resulted in four defeats. In losing to Hibs and St Mirren they haven’t indicated an intent to rail against their lowly status by cutting a swathe through the bottom six.

I still feel that in Brown they have a manager who can bring some positive northern light to Aberdeen. But that’s in the future.

Right now they need to find a way of leaving their league form behind them and figuring out how to perform against a team that has destroyed them more than once this season.

Celtic, in a season of distraction and complication, have a simple enough task ahead of them. Win every game and a new team with a novice manager will have won the double.

It would a hell of an achievement. Delivering that will, of course, not be quite as easy, but dispatching Aberdeen today will be the removal of another important obstacle.

The last time these sides met at Hampden Celtic’s first half performance was outstanding. The pace of their play, their attacking verve showed them at their best. It was a game that confirmed the impression that the depth and quality of the Celtic squad is without equal in Scotland this season.

That the league is not yet sewn up, that a treble chance has eluded them is because their consistency has not always matched their abilities.

In recent weeks a ruthless first half dismantling of Hibs on the back of the league cup final defeat offered the most articulate example of their superiority.

Another 45 minutes like that today, in a game that doesn’t carry the tightness of the SPL’s nip and tuck battle with Rangers, will beat Aberdeen. Even an Aberdeen free from the fug of their league despondency will not be able to live with that kind of Celtic performance.

So Celtic are massively strong favourites with the ability to render even a markedly improved Aberdeen performance meaningless. The ability, in fact, to make just like Motherwell and have this game done and dusted before the first half is out.

But football often rages against the most obvious plots, the underdog occasionally destroys the script.

At this stage my mind drifts back to a very different version of Neil Lennon’s Celtic arriving at Hampden at the same stage of the Scottish Cup last year.

Ross County proved that anything can happen. That stinging experience is likely only to strengthen Celtic’s resolve today.

I’d expect - I’d hope in another semi final with a TV reach beyond our own limited border - that Aberdeen will make a game of it today.

But it’s Celtic all the way for me.