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The Scottish FA Cup final is just around the corner, and Championship side Heart of Midlothian will go head-to-head with defending champions Celtic at Hampden Park. The final is actually the conclusion of last year’s tournament, which couldn’t be played out due to the coronavirus pandemic bringing competitive football in Scotland to an end back in March.
For the Hoops, who are the favourites in the Scottish FA Cup odds, it is a chance to get their season back on track and bring back some much-needed confidence for the remainder of this campaign.
Neil Lennon’s side have already been shown the exit door in the Europa League with still two games of the group stages remaining, as they have picked up just one point from four outings, whilst they also suffered an embarrassing 2-0 defeat at home to Ross County, which put an end to their defence of the Scottish League Cup.
However, that is just the tip of the iceberg for the Glasgow side, as their rivals Rangers sit 11 points clear of them at the top of the table – albeit with Celtic having two games in hand. Steven Gerrard’s side are now the clear favourites for the title, which would be an end to the Hoops’ efforts of achieving 10 league triumphs on the trot.
As a result, Lennon, who has guided Celtic to just two wins in their last 10 outings, is under immense pressure, and the Celtic Park faithful vented their anger once again after the defeat to Ross County by gathering in their hundreds outside the stadium, leaving the Hoops staff and players needing police escorts in and out of the venue.
For Hearts, on the other hand, the turmoil across the country in Glasgow could be a positive. The bookies may have them down as the massive underdogs for the December 20th showpiece, but for many fans of the Scottish game, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see the Jambos upset the Hoops and lift their ninth FA Cup.
They may have been relegated to the Championship last season, via a controversial points-per-game decision, but their team is far from short of quality players. Scottish international and former Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon is a solid player to have between the sticks, whilst they also have ex-Norwich and Everton midfielder Steven Naismith alongside current Northern Ireland internationals Michael Smith and Liam Boyce to name just a few within their ranks.
Hearts will also take confidence from the fact they have already overcome underdog status to reach the final. Robbie Neilson’s side went head-to-head with Edinburgh rivals Hibernian in the semi-final at Hampden, and a Boyce penalty in the 111th minute secured a 2-1 victory and the Jambos’ progression to the final.
For Hearts there is also the added incentive of not getting many chances to win titles. For many years Celtic have dominated on the domestic cup front, and before that Rangers stuck their oar in, so teams outside the big two need to take chances like this when they come along, and, given the Hoops’ recent form, now may be the chance for Hearts to do just that.