Robbie Neilson is relishing an Old Firm double header at the end of this month after Hearts drew Celtic in the Scottish Cup fourth round.
With Rangers due at Tynecastle for a league match on Saturday, November 22, and Celtic now visiting in the cup the following week, Neilson can look ahead to two of the biggest games of his club’s season.
Yesterday’s fourth round draw paired Celtic and Hearts together for the second time in a cup competition this year. They met at Parkhead in the League Cup in September, with the Glasgow club recording a comfortable 3-0 win. Neilson anticipates a different encounter in Gorgie and expects his team will be backed by a capacity crowd.
The match is scheduled for Saturday, November 29, but is could be moved to the Sunday to accommodate live television. “It makes it a good couple of weeks for us. We’ve got two good home games with Rangers one week and then Celtic the week after that,” said Neilson today.
“Hopefully we’ll get full houses for both of them and they’ll both probably be on TV as well. It’s good for the players and it’s two massive games for us. It’s a different atmosphere at home, compared with the tie at Celtic Park, and it’s a game we can hopefully try and win. We’re a strong team and the Scottish Cup is a big one for us so it’s a good marker to see where we are.”
Hibs will travel to either Ayr United or Alloa Athletic. The teams face a replay at Recreation Park next Tuesday after drawing 1-1 on Saturday.
“It’s going to be a tough game for us, whether we face Ayr or Alloa,” said Hibs boss Alan Stubbs, who intends to take in next week’s replay.
“The opposition will present us with different challenges, but we’ll make sure we’re ready for it on the day. With any cup draw, you always prefer to be handed a home tie, but we will prepare correctly for this away tie and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Spartans boss Dougie Samuel described their tie at home to either Morton or Airdrieonians as “the next best thing” to landing a more glamorous match. Samuel had stated his preference was to be paired with either Hearts or Hibs following his side’s 2-0 victory over Barry Ferguson’s Clyde on Saturday. He didn’t get the alternative Edinburgh derby he desired, but insisted he was still pleased with a home draw.
“Given the choice, everyone would have loved to have played one of the big guns away from home,” admitted Samuel. “I think if you’re not getting that, then the next best thing is to get a home draw. For us, it gives us a chance to demonstrate once again that we can host games of that magnitude and on that scale.”
If it is Morton who triumph in their replay with Airdrie, then Samuel will be facing familiar opposition. The Renfrewshire club defeated Spartans 1-0 at Cappielow in the Petrofac Cup earlier in the season, and the Ainslie Park manager acknowledged his team won’t hold that unknown factor.
“It works both ways – we obviously know a bit about them and they know a bit about us,” he said. “I think we can take confidence from our performance in that game but the down side is Morton, Jim [Duffy] and his players know they can’t underestimate us.”
Meanwhile, Bo’ness United manager Allan McGonigal was “absolutely gutted” after his side were drawn at home to League Two leaders Arbroath should they get past Elgin City in their third-round replay this Saturday.
The BUs sparked an incredible second-half fightback at Borough Briggs last weekend after going into half time 3-0 down to their hosts – goals from Kieran Anderson, Nicky Walker, Darren Gribben and Andy Scott salvaging a 4-4 draw.
McGonigal had hoped to get paired with a Premiership outfit – something he felt his side deserved after their herculean second-half revival, although he admitted the tie, if they make it, is a winnable one.
He said: “I’m absolutely gutted. No disrespect to Arbroath, but I was hoping that we would get one of the Premiership teams to give the boys a big incentive to get through the replay. For the players I think they deserved the right to play against a team who’d bring down a decent support and give the whole town a buzz. The last thing you want is to play against a team who are flying in the second division at the moment, although you look for a winnable tie and that’s what we’ve got if we make it.”
A fourth round Scottish Cup fixture would be a first for the Super League champions and McGonigal admits it would be huge for the club with the West Lothian town already “buzzing” for this Saturday’s replay.
“Fingers crossed we can do the business on Saturday – for us to get into the fourth round would be history for us,” he said.
William Hill Scottish Cup fourth-round draw: St Johnstone v Ross County; St Mirren v Inverness CT; Hurlford Utd or Stirling Albion v Raith Rovers; Rangers v Kilmarnock; Hearts v Celtic; Queen of the South v Brora Rangers; Stranraer v Dunfermline; Elgin or Bo’ness v Arbroath; Falkirk v Cowdenbeath; Spartans v Morton or Airdrieonians; Berwick Rangers v Albion Rovers; Dundee v Aberdeen; Annan Athletic v Brechin; Ayr Utd or Alloa v Hibs; Motherwell v Dundee Utd; Partick Thistle v Hamilton. (Ties to be played weekend of November 29-30).