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While Celtic moved fairly un-eventfully into the quarter-finals of the Scottish Communities Cup at Dingwall against Ross County, there was high drama in some of the other ties. Premier Division sides Aberdeen, Hearts and Rangers all went out to opposition from lower leagues, disappointing not only their fans but the treasurers of the various clubs.

I can never quite understand the lack of respect which this particular competition – the League Cup in its many re-namings – receives from both fans and managers. After a spell during the 2nd World War as a substitute for the Scottish Cup, the League Cup first started officially in season 1946/47. Until the mid-1970s, the format was constant; teams were drawn in four sections, which led to six matches for each club. The winner then went on to a two-legged quarter-final, with possibly a semi-final and final beckoning after that. With that number of matches ( 10 if a side went all the way to the final), it was regarded by clubs as a more than useful source of income.  Nowadays, Premier Division teams can reach the final after three matches.

Let’s now take a firm step into the realms of reality. The chances of a side other than Celtic and Rangers winning the SPL title are, to put it delicately, zilch! So, if any of the other teams in Scotland wish to win a major trophy – and you would imagine that player and managers are all in the game for that reason – it has to be in either the Scottish Cup or the League Cup. And I would imagine that fans would love to see their team win a major trophy. Why, then, particularly in the League Cup, do managers insist on putting out weakened teams in the early rounds?

I exempt both Old Firm managers from this criticism. These two clubs have fairly extensive squads, with several players of similar ability sometimes fighting for the same spot in the side, so some changes are inevitable.  However, the decisions made by Craig Brown at Aberdeen against East Fife ( 7 changes from the side which drew with Kilmarnock) and Paulo Sergio with Hearts at Ayr ( 8 changes to the side which beat St Mirren) are baffling…and proved very expensive. Occasionally, a side does need some tinkering for reasons of freshness or tiredness but you would hardly think that would have been the case on the 22nd September!

Equally worrying for Scotland’s clubs in general were the attendance figures for the 8 matches played in the Scottish Communities Cup this week;-

Aberdeen/East Fife…. 3,964      Airdrie/Dundee United …..1,252        Motherwell/Hibs ……3,909

Kilmarnock/Queen of the South……3,091        St Johnstone/St Mirren…….2,296

Ayr Utd/Hearts …..2,517         Falkirk/Rangers…….6,493           Ross County/Celtic…….5,367

A total of just under 30,000 for the eight ties…….the recession would appear to be biting!

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This Saturday, Celtic will host Inverness Caley Thistle. Caley are propping up the league table at present, having only won one match while losing five. They have an experienced managerial duo of Terry Butcher and Maurice Malpas in charge but if a team does not have a great deal of quality in its ranks, then experience behind the scenes counts for little. I will be surprised if Celtic do not win comfortably.

Jim Craig

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