Bell on road to redemption as United living cup final dream
CAMMY BELL can now speak to the restorative powers of Irn-Bru. At a ground where he once endured “the lowest point of my career” and in a tournament that had previously delivered only disappointment and frustration, the goalkeeper finally found contentment on Saturday as Dundee United defeated St Mirren to lift the Irn-Bru Cup.
He and his team-mates may have had cause to reach for the sponsor’s product yesterday morning to help soothe the post-party hangovers, although tomorrow’s vital league match against Ayr United may have curbed some of those celebrations.
For Bell, this victory – delivered by Tony Andreu and Thomas Mikkelsen goals either side of a Rory Loy strike for St Mirren – served as a form of redemption. The Challenge Cup, in two of its previous incarnations, had previously not been kind to the 30-year-old. He was in goal when Rangers lost in the final to Raith Rovers in 2014 at Easter Road, and only an unused substitute when the Ibrox side finally lifted the trophy by beating Peterhead last year. This, then, felt like the first winner’s medal in this competition that he truly merited.
“It’s third time lucky for me in this final,” he said. “Last year I was on the bench with Rangers but, to be honest, I kind of dismiss it because I didn’t play a part in them winning it. It was tough not to play a part last year. This year is different and it has been great to play more.
“I’m delighted to win it this year because the Raith Rovers game was a really disappointing one for me and for Rangers. It was a tough one to take at the time. Throughout my career I have had a lot of highs and a lot of lows but you have to learn from every experience, be it good or bad. You have to always enjoy the highs when you come along because there is always someone waiting to kick you back done to earth.”
It was achieved at a ground that previously only held bad memories for Bell. Fir Park was where Rangers’ failure to achieve promotion out of the Championship at the first attempt was finally sealed, Motherwell winning the second leg of their play-off 3-0 to complete a 6-1 aggregate victory.
Bell’s unsuccessful attempt to punch clear a looping, deflected Marvin Johnston shot at Motherwell’s opening goal remains one of the images of that match and of Rangers’ season as a whole. Bell was happier to have helped create a more positive memory.
“The lowest point in my career was my last game at Fir Park in the play-off final against Motherwell,” he recalled. “It was such a difficult day for me. I’m a senior player and I take the responsibility on my shoulders. I know that day I made a massive mistake and I got a lot of criticism for it. It was up to me to try to move on from that and learn from it. And I have done.
“I think it has made me a stronger character as well. The move to Dundee United has been brilliant for me. The manager has been fantastic with me and he has even made me captain. I feel like I owe the gaffer a lot and this one was my way of saying thanks to him.”
As United celebrated in front of their fans, the St Mirren players were left wondering what might have been had they converted more than just one of the many first-half chances they created.
News later in the day that relegation rivals Ayr had picked up three points would have felt like additional salt being poured into those gaping wounds, but any despondency was diluted by the sense of optimism that the Paisley side can still beat the drop into League One. The looming home games against Ayr and Dumbarton already have the potential to be hugely significant in that quest.
“This was a one-off game,” said defender Gary MacKenzie. “We’d liked to have won it but next week is massive and so is the one after that. They are all massive until we get ourselves to where we want to be.
“We can’t dwell on this or feel too disappointed. We need to dust ourselves down and keep performing the way we have done and I am sure we will be alright. We’ve shown the character in the last few months.
“The gaffer said to us after the game it was human nature to feel disappointment. But we can’t change it and we have to take the positives from the day.
“We’ve got to a final and we’ve competed with a team that’s fighting at the top end of the table. I think everyone would agree there wasn’t much between the teams. So we need to remain positive. If we keep putting in the effort and performances we will be alright.”
CAM BEFORE THE STORM: Dundee United captain Cammy Bell leads the celebrations at Fir Park as the Tannadice side sealed the Irn-Bru Cup.
SILVER SERVICE: Ray McKinnon holds the Irn-Bru Cup