Scottish League Cup quarter-finals
29 October ~ This week's Scottish League Cup quarter-finals are the first for 54 years to feature neither Rangers nor Celtic. For those orbiting the Old Firm sphere this is an opportunity to win much-needed silverware, Aberdeen feel that opportunity as pressure. Historically vying with Hearts as Scotland's third force, their 1995-96 success in this tournament remains their last trophy. Rangers' embarrassing League Cup defeat at Forfar in August was compounded by Celtic's shock elimination by Morton on September 24.
The following evening Aberdeen, victims of cup humiliation ever since Alex Ferguson's departure, stated their intent by winning 5-0 at Falkirk.
That scoreline is unlikely at Fir Park on Wednesday. Motherwell, regarded as Aberdeen's main challengers for second spot in the league this season, won their last major honour 23 years ago and their only League Cup in 1950-51. Manager Stuart McCall scored against Aberdeen for Rangers in the 1992 final and took the Well to the 2012 Scottish Cup final. He could easily add a trophy to the European spots the club now regularly claims.
Hibernian host the third knockout Edinburgh derby in 18 months on Wednesday. Hibs haven't won the Scottish Cup for 111 years – and were beaten in the last two finals – yet Hearts have also failed to win the League Cup in a half century, during which it's provided all of Hibs' three major successes. Hearts entered administration in June, their team decimated after their thrilling 3-2 defeat to St Mirren in last season's final. Starting this campaign with a 15-point deficit, their youthful squad remains firmly bottom of the league. With two Scottish Cups in the last eight years, Hearts' priority is the revenue from this week's live TV coverage.
No one expects second-tier strugglers Morton to add to their 1922 Scottish Cup this season, or even their 1963-64 appearance in the League Cup final. But neither did anyone expect them to win at Celtic Park in the last round. Their visitors on Wednesday, St Johnstone, have yet to win a major honour but have already achieved something historic this season, by putting Rosenborg out of the Europa League in July.
Terry Butcher's Inverness Caledonian Thistle, hosting Dundee United on Tuesday, reached the semi-finals last season and again occupy the league's European places. This would satisfy most 20-year-old clubs but Highland rivals Ross County set a new challenge when reaching the 2010 Scottish Cup final. Jackie McNamara's United are peppered with young attacking talent and can occasionally destroy opponents.
United's supplanting of neighbours Dundee in Scottish football's hierarchy began with Jim McLean's electrically entertaining side reaching three straight League Cup finals, from 1979 to 1981. With Hampden preparing for next summer's Commonwealth Games, Ibrox or Parkhead will stage the final. It's hard to escape Celtic and Rangers – but this season's League Cup already has. Alex Anderson