Football: The party spoilers await the Old Firm

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The Independent Online
FOR Rangers and Celtic, cup final appearances are not so much big occasions but the football equivalent of a family get-together: Hampden Park can seem a home from home for the two old rivals. This week, however, two familiar faces will be determined to spoil the party in the Skol Cup semi-finals at the old stadium.

Both Glasgow clubs come up against former captains in John McClelland and Roy Aitken, now player-coach of St Johnstone and player / co-assistant manager at Aberdeen respectively. If they need any reminding of the dangers of players putting one over on their former clubs, they need only consider the smiling face of Dean Saunders at the weekend, after his two goals against Liverpool.

McClelland knows only too well the state of the Rangers psyche when faced with a seemingly inferior club in cup competition. As club captain, he helped to keep the cupboard door firmly locked on a particularly nasty skeleton when he held aloft the League Cup in 1983 and Skol Cup in 1984.

'There is always pressure on Rangers on such occasions - they are desperate to avoid another Berwick,' he claims. Nevertheless, Rangers will start as clear favourites to progress on Tuesday.

The following night, Aberdeen travel to Glasgow hoping to defend a remarkable record that has seen them unbeaten in cup ties against Celtic at the national stadium in the last 20 years. The game will test Willie Miller's capacity to instil in his players the same self-belief which helped him become a winner on so many occasions in Glasgow.

Celtic, faced with the suspension of their centre-half, Tony Mowbray, must look for victory from adversity. Pat Bonner, the Irish goalkeeper recalled after 10 months of reserve-team football, conceded four goals at Falkirk on Saturday, leaving Celtic trailing 4-2 at one stage, although they fought back for a 5-4 victory. It is unlikely they will be able to come back if they allow Aberdeen a two-goal advantage.

Whichever teams contest the final on 25 October, they are likely to contest the Skol Cup for the last time, the sponsoring company having indicated a desire to end their 10-year association.