Saturday, April 16, 2011

Scottish Cup: Motherwell v St Johnstone

That was the week that was.

Although, at times, we've been sadly beyond satire.

Time now to concentrate on the football, to celebrate the game's rich heritage with the first Scottish Cup semi final today.

Concentrate as much as possible anyway, doing our best to ignore that our most venerable cup competition is without a sponsor.

And doing our best to ignore the empty seats. The odd diktat that all Scottish Cup semi finals must be played at Hampden - while allowing two TV companies to show it live - will mean a ground that is less than a fifth full, carrying with it all the allure of ninety minutes spent in a wind tunnel.

The laughing stock of the world? Aye right. There's not even enough people here who care.

All of which is a shame.

A shame because the loss of magic on Scottish Cup semi finals weekend is indicative of the loss of magic throughout Scottish football.

And a shame because for Motherwell and St Johnstone this is a huge, huge game carrying the tantalising prospect of a cup final and European football.

They arrive at Hampden tomorrow on the back of different seasons.

Motherwell's campaign kicked off on the 15th of July last year with a European qualifying game.

Since then they've lost a manager in Craig Brown, found a manager in Stuart McCall, lost form, given up any pretence of consistency, lost a final and now, suddenly, clicked.

Their recent run has included putting to an end to Dundee United's cup pretensions and excellent run of league form. In their last game they emerged from Tynecastle with a draw.

Along the way they've confirmed their place in the top six and won plaudits for their reinvigorated approach.

Compare and contrast. St Johnstone might not have fully succumbed to the cliche of a difficult second season. But it's hardly been one of unadulterated joy.

Although never looking likely to drop out of the league this has been a year of frustration. A lack of goals has hamstrung them. They remain more than capable of holding their own. But they do so with a butter knife of a cutting edge.

Only Hamilton in the league and Partick Thistle and Brechin - at the second attempt - have been beaten since the start of February.

The Colin Samuel strike that finally saw off Brechin was their only goal in the last six games.

That goals are the big problem for Derek McInnes is shown by the league table. Their 18 goals mean they share with Hamilton the distinction of being the SPL's lowest scorers. Yet they're a full 18 points clear of the bottom side.

St Johnstone have plenty to offer the league. But at the moment they're too impotent to make their other strenghts count.

All of which must make Motherwell favourites today.

But semi finals have been known to shock us. Hampden's atmosphere is often odd, the wide open spaces will make it positively eery this afternoon. The pitch is taking a lot of criticism although both these clubs can lay claim to recent experience on decidedly dodgy surfaces.

It could be a strange old affair.

And maybe that will suit St Johnstone as they strive towards a first ever Scottish Cup final.

Prediction: If St Johnstone can contain and frustrate early on then it could be very tight. Motherwell in the 90 minutes. St Johnstone if it goes beyond that.