• Ruaraidh Britton

Cup double dream stays alive: Scottish Cup semi final review

100 teams started the competition, and now many moons later, we are down to two. Hands up if you had Hibernian and St Johnstone as your predicted finalists? We all anticipated an Old Firm cup story once again with either Celtic making it five cup wins in a row or Rangers tasting the glory having not lifted the cup since 2009, but now we have a fantastic story emerging that has reminded us just how good this cup can be. A famous cup double for St Johnstone, or a second cup win this side of the millennium for Hibs, and both are refreshing outcomes for fans of the Scottish Cup after such utter dominance from Celtic.

Hibs knew that they had to make the most of the occasion, because the way they choked in the League Cup semi against the Perth Saints was brutally painful. They had to play their best football and get past Dundee United by any means necessary, and they sure enough did just that. Goals from Kevin Nisbet and a brutally harsh strike from Christian Doidge, who was well offside in the build up, sent Dundee out of the competition, and put Hibs in a fantastic position to end their season on a high. The second goal from Doidge was missed, but the outcome would still have likely seen Hibs get by into a second final in five years, but the calls for VAR in Scotland will be heightened having seen such a blatant call missed in a high-stakes encounter. A third place finish with European qualifiers and a cup win would be a fantastic outcome for Jack Ross and his team, but we all know the famous story about Hibs and cup finals. The curse is well and truly broken, but being beaten by St Johnstone three times in 2021 doesn’t exactly make the impending final all that easy. They will carry the favourites tag, but Ross and his side will know that that simply is not the case come the end of the month. St Johnstone will also be keen to avoid the narrative of a cup double disrupting the preparations, and as Stephen Craigan said on commentary, Callum Davidson has done a fantastic job of keeping his team grounded during a challenging week. But after their heroics on Sunday afternoon, the neutral would be expecting his side to snatch the trophy. St Mirren couldn’t lay a glove on St Johnstone despite an intense quarter of an hour to open proceedings. They were outfought across the park, but the goals wouldn’t come until super sub Glenn Middleton turned the screw for his side. Chris Kane’s deflected strike from Middleton’s assist blew the game open, but his free kick will go down as one of the all time cup greats as he curled a beautifully positioned strike well out of reach of Jak Alnwick. We hear the same old comments every week about how a game deserved fans, but the roar that would have filled Hampden when that went in would have been truly special. St Johnstone were very lucky in this team playing today after a Covid scare in midweek, but the majority of their first choice players showed today that they are more than ready for a fourth visit to Hampden in a fortnights time.

It is a fixture we don’t often look to for drama, but we now have ourselves a very interesting cup final in terms of its significance off the pitch. Ross has to win this trophy to deem this season a success, because a European finish in the league is not enough for a team carrying this much talent. He has to look at this final and know that it is make or break, because there is far more pressure on him than his rival Davidson. On an incredibly small budget, they have excelled well beyond their expectations, and quite frankly Davidson has proven that he can compete with the best in this league. He has one trophy in the bag in his first season, and a second would be the icing on the cake, but they have had a truly outstanding season and will know that after securing a top six finish and a place in two cup finals, his club will be very happy to keep him around for the next season and beyond.

As far as narratives go, seeing a team outside of the Old Firm win a cup in Scotland is always a treat for fans to break up the routine we tend to see in Scotland. To see the minnows of St Johnstone line themselves up for a double however, has been so refreshing, and after today’s showing you have every confidence that they can go on and do the unthinkable and make the dream of a double come true. The only thing that stands in the way, is a team that has a point to prove. Hibs have got to show their mettle and remind us that they are a force to be reckoned with, and coming up short in the final will do anything but that. The ramifications are massive, and we cannot rely on the carnage we saw in previous rounds, but whoever ends up with their name on the trophy can be seriously proud of what they have accomplished in the most challenging of seasons.