New Firm tie bigger of the semi-finals, says Hayes
‘Gulf in class between Old Firm teams’
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.