This is it, it’s time for you to go to the wire…

A preview of the cup semi-finals on the anniversary of Prince’s death…

Firstly, the one we don’t really care about.

Aberdeen v Hibs

Honestly, I’m not sure how that game will go at all. I’d much prefer for their fans to clash on the park and both teams to be fined and kicked out of the competition, but sadly it seems you’re allowed to invade the pitch these days during big games.

Aberdeen should be favourites, especially as Hibs have been in rather patchy form in the league, but the Edinburgh side seem to raise their game pretty well for the cup games against Premiership sides, so they’ll fancy their chances.

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If someone was to ask “who would you prefer to face in the final?”, I’d just be happy that we managed to win our game, so it’s largely irrelevant. A win for Aberdeen would guarantee that 4th place in the league gets a European spot, which Scottish Football may need rather than Hibs being the team to get there.

I honestly can’t really bring myself to want either side to win.

Rangers v Celtic

 

I try to tell myself before every game against that lot these days that it’s not a big deal, really. I especially find that to be the case these days, when the gap is bigger than it’s been in a long time and we just need patience as a support before we can start raising expectations.

And then as each day passes, I start to believe. I listen to Pedro Caixinha and see his passion for this shine through. I think about some of the most unlikely results we’ve ever had against that lot, none more so than at this stage last year. I imagine a tactical masterclass akin to Walter’s slayings over the years where we let them play themselves into trouble as they let emotion take precedence over control.

And the doubts start to become the nagging voice of the jaded part of my football-fan psyche, the part we all hope is very wrong. Let’s be honest, if you can’t believe in your team’s chances before a game like this, no matter how unrealistic it may seem to those not emotionally involved, is there really any point in being a fan anymore?

I said this before the Aberdeen game, and it holds true even more for this one – any sort of result would be a magnificent achievement by the manager and the players. We’ll have a manager with no experience of this game, who has only been here a couple of months, we’ll have at least two players making their Old Firm debuts, possibly three (and all of them will be under the age of 22), and we’ll be facing a side yet to lose a domestic game this season who have a much better squad available to them than we do. If we make the Cup final this year, we should never play down just how unexpected that was.

As there’s been no sign of Clint Hill in the training pictures so far, I fully expect the number of Old Firm debutants to be three. Many think we’ll go with Hodson and Tavernier on the right again, which has done ok against Tierney and Sinclair in previous games, but I’ve noticed that Sinclair has been playing more central of late, and if we did that and they went with the 3-5-2 they played last weekend it would be a waste. I do think, though, that we’ll look to protect Beerman somewhat by having either Halliday or Miller on the left to help him out. The team I’m predicting is:

With the option of tucking either Halliday or Hyndman in more central and moving Miller to the corresponding wing if required. I don’t see us being too adventurous and starting with the likes of McKay or Dodoo out wide, but they will be useful options from the bench, with Windass being another player quick on the break and with good energy.

We could debate all day about the merits of certain players – whether or not Bates is ready, is Waghorn capable of finishing chances well enough, does Toral’s style suit a game like this – but we’ve seen some sides that look horrendous on paper do the business in this sort of game because it’s all about attitude and luck. I have a feeling we’ll make this game a battle, aiming to keep them out in the main and looking to hit them on the break, especially later on as the game opens up. The energy of Holt is going to be key. Wilson needs to keep up his recent performance level. Miller needs to show every bit of his leadership. Bates and Beerman need to handle the pressure. Caixinha needs to send the team out with controlled aggression.

And even if we play well, and everyone gives their all, it might not be enough. That lot haven’t lost a domestic game, and no one in Scotland has kept a clean sheet against them yet. Any suggestions that they’re not a good side would be churlish at best.

Logic tells us we’ll lose, but if football was logical we wouldn’t be as interested in it. I tend to dress up pessimism as realism when I think about games like this, but even just typing the above out has raised the heart rate slightly and got me believing there’s a real chance. It’s a cup game, at a venue where we seem to have a good record in these games and I have no doubts about the attitude and passion of the squad and management. The rest really is in the lap of Laudrup…

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