New Firm tie big­ger of the semi-fi­nals, says Hayes

‘Gulf in class be­tween Old Firm teams’

The Herald - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - KEVIN FER­RIE

AS he pre­pares for Satur­day’s QTS League Cup semi-fi­nal, Jonny Hayes reck­ons that the cur­rent gulf in class be­tween the Old Firm teams means his Aberdeen side’s New Firm meet­ing with Dundee United is the big­ger game.

While much of the fo­cus is on the first meet­ing of the Old Firm for three years, the 27-year-old Dubliner reck­ons that the first semi-fi­nal is set up to be the more com­pet­i­tive en­counter.

“You’ve got two Premier­ship teams against each other, so this should be the tie of the week­end,” he said yes­ter­day.

“Celtic are a good side and Rangers are in the league be­low. There might be a bit of a gap and peo­ple will ex­pect Celtic to win that game com­fort­ably.”

By con­trast Aberdeen are cur­rently giv­ing Celtic their tough­est chal­lenge in the Premier­ship since Rangers dropped out of the top flight, while their east coast neigh­bours are only a fur­ther three points be­hind.

So far this sea­son they have both claimed away wins when they have met, United reg­is­ter­ing an ex­tra­or­di­nary 3-0 win at Pit­to­drie on the open­ing week­end of the sea­son, while Aberdeen’s 2-0 vic­tory in De­cem­ber was the only de­feat United have suf­fered at Tan­nadice this sea­son. Both teams are also in ex­cel­lent form with Aberdeen un­beaten in nine matches while United have lost just once in seven matches.

Con­se­quently, as Ham­p­den re­claims its sta­tus as the home of Scot­tish foot­ball’s big games, the un­pre­dictabil­ity of this match only adds to its at­trac­tion, as Hayes ac­knowl­edged.

“Our­selves and Dundee United have been very closely matched over the last 18 months to two years and a lot of peo­ple will be look­ing for­ward to the tie as there has been a lot of good foot­ball be­tween the sides,” said Hayes.

“The games be­tween us have been close and I think it will be again.”

But Hayes – scorer of two of Aberdeen’s four goals in last sea­son’s semi­fi­nal against St Johnstone – also con­cedes that a com­bi­na­tion of ge­og­ra­phy and the his­tory sur­round­ing the Old Firm clash means they will al­ways find it eas­ier to fill the na­tional sta­dium. “It was only when we went to warm-up that we felt the at­mos­phere and I know it won’t be the same this week­end as Ham­p­den is a big, big ground,” he said. “We al­ways seem to un­der-es­ti­mate how many fans we bring.

“They have been bril­liant for us home and away but Ham­p­den is a very dif­fi­cult ground to fill, so it would have been nice to maybe have it at Tynecas­tle again and have that kind of at­mos­phere, but we’ll still have the majority of fans roar­ing us on. If you ask the majority of play­ers on both sides they would pre­fer a game where the at­mos­phere is bet­ter to hav­ing a half-empty ground. It doesn’t re­ally look right for a semi-fi­nal.

“Some­place like Easter Road or Tynecas­tle, where two sets of fans with a nice ri­valry would have been close to each other would have made a good at­mos­phere, but it’ll take noth­ing away from what hap­pens on the pitch, it just might have made it a bet­ter oc­ca­sion.”

BIG MATCH: Aberdeen’s Jonny Hayes is rel­ish­ing contest with Dundee United.

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