I know what you’re thinking. It’ll be news to many of those fine journalists who work on Glasgow’s sports desks too. But I’m honestly not making it up: There are TWO League Cup Semi-Finals happening this weekend. Yes, TWO of them!
As 10-man Dundee limped off the Tannadice turf last September after a plucky but futile bus-parking display, they’d saved themselves the bother of a possible trophy with their second successive loss to United in four days. Then we were drawn against Hibs in the Quarter-Final – and what a thriller that was! 7-6 on penalties (and a numb backside for me) was the eventual result that October evening at Easter Road.
Obviously keen to keep the League Cup momentum going and eager to settle the first major silverware of the season, the Hampden blazers deemed three months a sufficient wait for the Semi-Finals.
November 1st was the date of the draw and it was the two unheated balls out first as the game everybody craved was confirmed – Dundee Untied v Aberdeen. Fist-pumping, air-punching, whispered exclamations of “YEEEESSSSSSS” and stirrings below the waist would follow for those assembled in the room – as reigning third tier Champions Rangers were drawn against Celtic.
Glasgow journalists had spent two whole seasons craving this fixture and now their dream game was happening at last. Many back pages were now taken care of for weeks for the sports writers. They had a semi, alright.
The media hid their disappointment at the draw quite well under the circumstances. A strange hysteria ensued as Scotland’s newspapers curiously chose to focus on the B-game of the weekend occasion. Saturation coverage of United against Aberdeen was obviously being saved for closer to the time.
Meanwhile in Strathaven, QTS clambered to secure sponsorship of the upcoming “New Firm” Semi. Their branded tangerine and black trophy ribbons leave no doubt as to who they wish to see lift the cup for maximum advertising exposure. It’s thought that their deal may help offset the massive police and security bill for the Sunday by a percentage or two. Every little helps.
United and Aberdeen have faced each other twice so far this season with the Terrors recording one of the few visitor victories at Pittodrie of recent times. A 0-3 spanking was dished out to The Dons but parity was restored when the return fixture yielded a 0-2 loss for an out-of-sorts United against highly impressive guests that December afternoon at Tannadice.
The Tangerines would console themselves with a 2-1 win over Celtic the following weekend and Aberdeen would continue their League ascent with only four points dropped since mid-November.
The imposing form of both sides has ensured that January 31st will be an absolute powder keg of an occasion. 19,000 Dandy Dons will be at Hampden all decked-out in their bespoke tangerine/red half and half scarves normally reserved for when they visit Tannadice.
Jamie Langfield struggles to get a game these days, so that’s taken some of the gloss away for many Arabs, but memories of the last ‘New Firm’ League Cup Semi Final at Tynecastle in 2008 will send a shudder through those of a red persuasion who still attend counselling because of it.
There have been false dawns before, but never have United and Aberdeen looked more likely to shake-up the domestic honours since the mid-80’s. It is indeed a giddy time with both sides heavily fancied for silverware.
As January 31st approaches and the grip of Armageddon tightens, it’s arguably the most enjoyable stage of the season for both sets of fans.
United are still fighting on three fronts and we’re not out of contention for anything just yet.
Eliminated from the Europa League and the Scottish Cup, Aberdeen may end-up having to make-do with the Premiership title.
Both clubs deserve credit for choosing to have the Semi-Final on a Saturday at 3pm. Too often, TV runs the show these days. It’s great that for once, the fans were considered.
It’s a shame that the match couldn’t have been played at Tynecastle or Easter Road to lessen travel for the support, but as proven with ‘neutral’ Ibrox last season in the Scottish Cup, the Scottish FA are funny when it comes to choice of venue.
My starting XI would be: Cierzniak, Dillon, Morris, Fojut, Townsend, Butcher, Telfer, Erskine, Ciftci, GMS & Armstrong.
McNamara has been raising one or two eyebrows with his team selections of late. Elements of players starting because of rotation or reputation have been heavily discussed online. My line-up is a ‘merit XI’, these are simply the ones who will win us the game.
Then again, I’ve never kicked a ball professionally, I’m just a fan. All I can do is put my trust in the manager’s team selection and what he’s privy to on the training ground.
But some things are beyond any manager’s control and in this case, the Semi-Final will be won or lost depending on which Ciftci, which Armstrong and which GMS show up on the day.
Ciftci is an archetypal flawed genius. He’s got all the footballing talent in the world. But too often he’s a petulant, moody and aggressive. Referees hate him.
Armstrong and GMS are similar to each other in that on their day, they’re unplayable, they’re ravenous, they’re dripping with quality. Unfortunately, us fans only get to see those superlatives once in every three or four games.
But, if Ciftci, GMS and Armstrong show up, it’s a United victory and a long trip back for The Dons. McNamara’s lads deserved a trophy last season and this is a massive chance to right that wrong.
Yes, there would still be the League Cup Final to play, but after the disappointment of the 2014 Scottish Cup Final, you could be sure that Ciftci, GMS and Armstrong would be up for it. And when those three are in the mood, the opposition has no chance.
My prediction: Dundee United 3 Aberdeen 1
Written by Christopher Bennison