Saturday, May 21, 2011

Scottish Cup Final: Motherwell v Celtic

Scottish Cup final day. Nothing beats it.

It takes a bit of a battering, the old trophy. Sponsorless and struggling in a footballing world where other competitions hold sway.

Tell you what though, still means a hell of a lot to any side lucky enough to win it.

Today Hampden hosts the Scottish Cup's most successful team, Celtic, and Motherwell.

Now Motherwell are far from our least successful exponents of cup football. But today they chase their third win in their eighth final.

Celtic are on the hunt for win number 35 in their 54th final.

In a one off game that lack of parity in historic achievement means very little. Well, actually that isn't quite true. Since Jock Stein's Dunfermline shocked them in a 1961 replay Aberdeen are the only team apart from Rangers to beat Celtic on Scottish football's grand day out.

So Stuart McCall's side must wear their knowledge of our footballing history lightly today. Fear it and they'll be cowed underdogs without a chance.

Of course success like Celtic's brings its own obstacles. A lost League Cup final and being pipped to the SPL title mean has allowed Rangers to take the baubles and bragging rights in a long, emotional season.

The 2008/09 League Cup was Celtic's last trophy. In this Scottish footballing landscape when the Old Firm duopoly has rarely been so pronounced that must be both a frustration and a concern.

Today offers the chance to avoid a second straight trophyless season.

And a first managerial trophy for Neil Lennon. It takes very little understanding of human emotions to know how much that will mean to Lennon, perhaps more than a lot of the other honours he collected in a well garlanded playing career.

This might not be the trophy they desperately want at the start of each season, but today still carries a weighty significance for Celtic.

Motherwell? Well, can the cynic in me suggest that they are likely to be the more refreshed team having essentially gone awol for the last five games of the season?

Can they shut out that bad run of results, convince themselves that their focus has always been on 3pm at Hampden this afternoon? And how will their defeat at an emotional Celtic Park last Sunday affect them?

Will they see it as an opportunity, a chance to raise their game and surprise a complacent opposition? Or will it convince them they are playing against a team that can pummel them at will?

Stuart McCall, no stranger to trophies in his own playing career, will have had a strange week with his players, building them into giants when their most recent experience is of being blown away by today's opponents.

Celtic will have been disappointed last week but not shocked. Rangers won the league on the last day but it was the expected outcome. The damage was done in Celtic's defeat to Inverness. It's that game that Lennon will be using to guard against the crime of complacency today.

As Inverness proved - and as Motherwell proved earlier in the season - Celtic are from invincible. At their exhilarating best they can put to the sword any team in the country. Get them on an off day and they can be beaten.

Surely though the Scottish Cup final is no place for an off day. You would think not. But footballing fate tends not to respect such things.

League form, squad quality and history. Everything points to this being Celtic's cup for the taking.

And I expect that to be outcome.

In football you never know what will happen? Well, in Scottish football you often do have a fair idea of what's going to happen.

Motherwell can win today. They have impressive performers who can cause Celtic problems and take advantage of any weaknesses Celtic show.

Realistically though Celtic are big favourites for a reason and I don't expect to shatter the earth by predicting a Celtic win.

Who'll win the Scottish Cup - leave your vote here