Sunday, April 15, 2018

Too close to call! Stats suggest Scottish Cup Semi-Final between Celtic and The Rangers will be a nailbiter

Hunskelping. It's something that never gets old. And the title of Hunskelper is one of highest accolades that can be conferred on any Celtic player, manager or team.

We have several at present but perhaps also too many people who take victory for granted.

However, a few facts and stats suggest that the Scottish Cup semi-final with The Rangers will be far closer than many Celtic fans are prepared for.

But, I hear you say, we're coasting to the title, far ahead of the southside pretenders, who have never beaten us over 90 or 120 minutes in their short history.

And, having played perhaps our worst 45 minutes at Ibrox, we beat eventually them with ten men.
All true and valid points.

And yet, there are one or two notable issues to suggest that we would be unwise to take a Cup Final place for granted.

The most significant of these is the disparity in terms of performance when comparing Celtic and The Rangers at home and away.

Breaking the table down, it is clear that Celtic (unbeaten at Celtic Park) have been ten points and roughly a goal-a-game better than The Rangers in terms of goal difference.

Away from home, however, the respective records are extremely close. (In fact, before the match with Hamilton Accies last week, the won/drawn/lost record was identical.)

The Rangers have scored 38 goals in 16 (2.4 a game) matches to Celtic's 31 in 17 (1.8 per match) games. That's a third more than Celtic's goals tally.

In contrast, Celtic have conceded six fewer goals than The Rangers by a similar factor (13:19) having played a game less.

Now, there is an obvious point to make that playing at a neutral venue is not the same as playing an ordinary away game.

But the factors that have contributed to the statistics mentioned above may not be clear until the game is done.

We can say that Celtic Park is an intimidating venue and that an overwhelmingly Celtic crowd can positively influence results.

On the other hand, perhaps the pressures associated with those same factors have actually inhibited the performances of The Rangers.

But it is not at all clear how those factors will play out at Hampden with a roughly 50-50 spectator split.

Should both teams be thought of as playing away or is the Hampden venue something distinct for both teams?

If the influence of the crowd is a crucial factor, basic logic would imply that Celtic will be somewhat disadvantaged while The Rangers will be somewhat advantaged. (If a crowd dominated by home fans boosts Celtic but intimidates The Rangers.)

And that would suggest that the result is far from the foregone conclusion that many Celtic fans would wish for.

Add to that factors related to the playing surface. It was difficult to judge based on the Motherwell-Aberdeen semi as the ball spent little time on the grass.

However, if the pitch is as bad as on many previous occasions, it will definitely benefit the less skilful team (though the larger dimensions would favour a team playing expansive, varied football rather than one that would clip its own pitch in order to contain the same qualities).

Also, throwing in the fact that the referee, Bobby Madden, is a former season ticket holder at Ibrox, you could have an intriguing match on your hands.

Unexpected plusses for Celtic have come in the form of Dave King effectively promising to sack the current Ibrox coach Graeme Murty and the idiotic furore over David Bates daring to sign for Hamburg on a free transfer.

In normal circumstances, these issues would likely damage the remaining morale of the Ibrox coaching and playing staff alike.

But, on the back of some lukewarm Celtic form, with an uncertain defence and the normal tension that comes with trying to achieve something that has never been done before - a second consecutive domestic treble - it would be foolish to expect a procession to the final on 19th May.

We have two painful examples in the past few seasons of semi-final disappointments.

This Celtic side will have to be at its very best to have that chance to make history.

We have the players and the coaching team to do it.

Make no mistake – everyone will have to be at their best and they must believe to achieve.

It will be a challenge but I believe we will get the result.

I believe in our people. Let's be ready.

No comments: