Trophy dreams fire up Scottish Cup contenders ahead of Hampden semi-finals

Aberdeen face Celtic before Hearts take on Rangers in the final four.

Aberdeen, Celtic, Hearts and Rangers eye Hampden glory in Scottish Cup semi-finals SNS Group

Four teams remain in this season’s Scottish Cup and only two will still have dreams of Hampden glory by Sunday afternoon.

This weekend’s semi-finals pit Aberdeen against Celtic, and Rangers against Hearts, with drama guaranteed in both matches at the national stadium.

Fans will head to Mount Florida full of optimism that they can see their team take another significant step towards lifting the trophy next month, but the keenly anticipated ties will deliver jubilation and despair in equal measure.

Each side has shown their capabilities on the road to Hampden, and they now need to show they have another knockout blow to deliver.

Aberdeen's cup form has been the highlight of their season. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

Aberdeen’s season has been miserable overall with Barry Robson sacked as manager, Neil Warnock lasting just a month as interim boss at Pittodrie and Peter Leven in his second caretaker spell. A bottom six finish in the league underlines how difficult a year it’s been for the club’s fans but the cups have provided some respite.

A run to the Viaplay Cup final ended with a narrow 1-0 defeat to Rangers at Hampden and in the Scottish Cup progress has been relatively smooth.

Straightforward victories over Clyde and then Bonnyrigg Rose took the team to the quarters but Aberdeen were underdogs at home to high-flying Kilmarnock in the last eight.

A 3-1 victory took the team to Hampden and was the undoubted highlight of Warnock’s brief tenure. It also served as a reminder there is still plenty of talent in the ranks at Pittodrie.

Leven knows the Dons are underdogs against Celtic but says his side are heading to Glasgow with belief and desire.

“We’re going there to win the game,” he said. “We want to get to another final.

“Yes, it’s going to be difficult, they’re a top team and they dominate the ball a lot, but we’ve got a game plan and hopefully we can execute it.”

Brendan Rodgers has never lost a Scottish Cup game as Celtic manager. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

Saturday’s opponent’s Celtic have won the Scottish Cup in five of the last seven seasons and manager Brendan Rodgers has never lost a game in the competition.

The holders began their defence of the trophy comfortably, with five different scorers celebrating in a 5-0 home win over Buckie Thistle. Goals from Kyogo Furuhashi and Daizen Maeda secured a fifth round win at St Mirren and put Celtic through to face more Premiership opposition in the shape of Livingston.

The Premiership’s bottom side gave a good account of themselves, drawing level twice at Celtic Park but two late goals put the holders in the semi-finals.

Rodgers feels his side are coming good at the right time after some bumps throughout the campaign, and they are now eyeing a league and cup double.

“We are in a semi-final, which is great, we are improving and the performance level is showing that,” he said. “I demand more from the team and I will push right until that last whistle of the season.

“But for me it’s part of a league campaign – you will not play 38 games at the very highest level. You are going to have dips and waves, but your strength is how you shift that.

“That’s the real strength in those moments, whenever it isn’t going quite well, can you shift it and get the team back on track?

“And the players have been absolutely brilliant. They have had to dig in at lots of moments this season and get results.

“But we just chipped away and stayed focused on our game model and how we play, and whenever influential players come back in, then all the pieces come together again and the fluidity of the team is much better.

Rangers still have the chance to win a treble this season. (Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group)

Rangers have had a week to forget, with defeat at Ross County followed by a draw at Dundee that saw their title hopes take a huge dent. The Ibrox side still have the opportunity to complete a domestic treble if they can turn their form around though, and a victory against Hearts on Sunday would change the gloomy mood around the side so far.

Having already won the League Cup, Rangers started their Scottish Cup journey with a comfortable 4-1 win at Dumbarton before Ayr United were defeated 2-0 at Ibrox in the next stage.

The quarter-final draw handed Philippe Clement’s side a potentially tricky trip to Hibs but John Lundstram put Rangers ahead in the first half and, after two red cards for the hosts, Fabio Silva sealed a semi-final place with a second goal.

The last week has been difficult after two results that saw the advantage in the title race shift to Celtic but Clement is adamant his side are hungry to get back on track.

“It’s always exciting to be in a semi-final, to be so close to a final and to go to Hampden,” he said. “We had a good experience there and we’re now two games away from a trophy so everybody is really excited about it.”

Hearts are in confident mood after stron form in recent months..  (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)

After an uneven start to the season, Hearts have really hit their stride in 2024, with their league form comparable to Celtic and Rangers, and third place in the Premiership as good as certain with five games to go.

Spartans and then Airdrie were swept aside in the early rounds, and Steven Naismith’s team then took on an in-form Morton in the quarter-finals. Kenneth Vargas popped up with a late goal to earn his side progress and allow dreams of cup glory to grow.

Naismith believes Rangers may be vulnerable after their recent disappointments but also sees real strength in his side that could stand them in good stead for Sunday’s clash.

“For any player when you win trophies, it feels great but doing it is the hard part,” he said.

“For us, that’s what we want to focus on. We go there knowing we’re a good team, we’ve made good strides this season and we’ve got a right opportunity to go and pick up this trophy. We’re in a good position and our last two results have been good so we’re going into it full of confidence.”

Extra time and penalties could be needed to separate the sides in Saturday and Sunday’s games but at the end of the weekend’s action, the identity of the finalists will be known.

They will meet at the national stadium on May 25 and one of them will be lifting the famous trophy in celebration and signing off at the end of the season in style.

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