Scottish sports comment: Looking at the semi-final line-ups for the Scottish League Cup last weekend I strongly fancied both Celtic and Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
Wrong and wrong again! It will not be first and second in the SPL, but St Mirren and Hearts who meet for the final in March.
The two matches at Hampden and Easter Road were fine spectacles in a competition which has not always been known for bringing the hard thump of excitement to the veins.
Well done to both clubs, particularly to the Buddies who quite outfought and outplayed Celtic to win 3-2.
It was straightforward really — they wanted the win more than the Glasgow club whose manager Neil Lennon was left lamenting “a soulless performance” by “spoiled kids.”
If those words don’t sting professional pride nothing will for, as much as their win over Barcelona propelled his men into brighter-than-expected limelight, he will mournfully reflect on the fact that in his hands the Hoops have now lost five crucial ties at the old white elephant of Mount Florida.
Further north, in the Highlands, the Inverness boss Terry Butcher will also curse the missed opportunity of cup glory which is just about the only stain thus far on a remarkable season.
Outside these defeated camps there will be no grumbling, for it must be said the outcome of both ties showed that Scottish football has plenty of depth and charge left in it with Rangers anchored in the bottom division.
We should not be too bewildered, for after all these are SPL teams. Yet Scotland’s football culture has for so long existed in silos. There was the Old Firm — who dominated decade after decade — and there was the rest, who hardly got a look in.
Many observers will therefore conclude that the semi-final results are a good thing for the game. It’s hard to argue otherwise for they have added benefit beyond a change of cast.
For instance John McGlynn said that by winning on penalties his young side had lifted the “doom and gloom” around Hearts, who have struggled with the ball and chain of financial woes all season long.
Predictions may be for the birds, but this much I venture — supporters from Tynecastle and Paisley will now look forward with relish to a final which has every chance of further quickening the pulse of the body fitba.
Scott Johnson strikes me as a wise sort of fellow. The interim Scotland rugby coach has displayed a fine line in breezy rhetoric in the run-up to the opening Six Nations match against England at the weekend.
“We are the sad kids from the north. We don’t stand much of a chance do we?” he chimed, with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
He plainly understands the Scottish underdog mentality, with the ex-Wales coach saying he knows what it means to “ruin a party at Twickenham.”
Such statements stir the passions but they are also a hostage to fortune. For 30 years supporters have headed to south London only to return across the border with nothing more satisfying than English beer in their bellies.
It would take a brave man or a fool to predict that they have what it takes at this stage to bring the Calcutta Cup back to Murrayfield.
Yet there is real opportunity here for momentum and one suspects that, given time, Johnson could deliver the kind of results the absence of which tested predecessor Andy Robinson’s patience.
For the new boss does not only talk a good game, he has a fine eye for technical detail and as an Australian the unwavering attitude of a winner.
The Scots need those qualities very badly indeed.
There was a touch of old-fashioned good grace in Andy Murray’s words shortly after his defeat in the final of the Australian Open at the weekend.
Murray said he had “come close” and was “going in the right direction,” but knew he had been outgunned over four sets by a “very deserving champion” in Novak Djokovic.
Tennis at the highest level, especially in an era laden with great players, is won and lost in tiny margins.
Had Murray not double-faulted when a feather floated down to disrupt his concentration in a second-set tiebreak, nor the sting of blisters stunted his running, then who knows what may have happened.
Without doubt it was body not mind which edged the final the way of the world number one. Murray is a first-class warrior, but the five-set semi-final victory against Roger Federer just left him with too little in the tank.
The consolation is that things have not changed one iota since the start of the tournament in Melbourne. For Murray was downed by the reigning champ, top seed and a man whom he knows he can beat at the sharpest end of a slam.
With Federer raging against the dying of the brightest of lights and Rafa Nadal likely to remain a force only on clay, the Scot is savvy enough to know that he will see many more such occasions — and opportunities — against the big Serb.
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