Ahead of Saturday’s showpiece game, Falkirk Herald sports editor David Oliver gives five reasons why the Bairns will win at Hampden, while reporter Chris McCall explains why Inverness Caledonian Thistle can’t be written off.
1 Craig Sibbald
This is his moment. The jewel in the Falkirk Academy crown, his potential is being fulfilled. Believe the rumours and this will be his last appearance in a Falkirk jersey with big clubs waiting with open wallets, but it’s about more to the Graeme High school pupil who left his teens just ten days ago. This is a local boy playing for his local team and bringing the cup back to his town. He’s been the go to guy in the quarter final and the semi, there’s no reason he can’t do it.
2 Rest and recovery
Falkirk have been single minded in their approach for almost a month. No other games or competitions or distractions. It’s all on Saturday. The drain and strain of the season had been evident in their play as the league wound up, but that’s been put to one side as a meticulous approach from peter Houston, Kris Robertson et al has ensured Falkirk will be in peak physical and mental condition for the task ahead.
Falkirk’s players are the underdogs for the final against their higher league level opponents. It’s not been an unfamiliar feeling for Falkirk with the likes of Rangers, Hearts and Hibs in the Championship this season. Inverness are used to being underdogs too. How they cope with their favourites tag will determine how they perform, because Falkirk know the pressure is off them...
4 The support
...Or is it? Some 20,000 Bairns fans could end up packing out Hampden after the club, partners and community whipped up such excitement and interest in the Final that Hampden is the place to be on Saturday. The Bairns praised their backing at Dumfries in the quarter final, they were overwhelmed at the semi support but this will be something else. The Navy Blue Army is coming to Hampden en masse and will easily outnumber any Highland clearance.
5 Rory Loy
He’s back. And that means double trouble for Inverness. Falkirk now have two match-winners in their ranks. If Sibbald is the star, Loy is the Bairns talisman. His goals over the past two seasons ahve been vital, but so has his work-rate and that energy.
Why it could be Caley’s cup
1 No John Baird
Falkirk have managed to reach Saturday’s showpiece without prolific striker John Baird, who is cup-tied, and without star forward Rory Loy, who was injured against Queen of the South in the quarter-final. While the latter has now regained fitness and is expected to lead the line for Peter Houston’s team, he lacks match practice. Craig Sibbald’s fine header was enough to defeat Hibs, but Inverness are a different prospect and can be expected to better defend routine crosses in the box.
2 The Christie factor
Falkirk are rightly proud of their youth system and the players it produces. But Inverness have a hot prospect of their own. Ryan Christie has been a revelation for the Caley Jags this season and has won favourable comparisons to Ryan Gauld, who left Dundee United for the bright lights of Sporting Lisbon. Christie (20) has so far played down talk of a similar transfer, but having recently been named Scottish football writers’ young player of the year, speculation of a big-money move will only continue. Saturday could be his chance to shine on the big stage.
3 Yogi the strategist
Caley boss John Hughes is often characterised as an emotional, fist-pumping coach but is a far shrewder tactician than he is given credit for. His game plan to stifle a stronger Aberdeen team in last year’s League Cup final came close to fruition, and he’ll have his side well-drilled for Saturday.
4 Premier League status
East Fife are the only club ever to win the Scottish Cup from outwith the top flight - and that was in 1938. Inverness finished third in the Premiership, a full 14 places above Falkirk. It’s fair to say Caley start the game as favourites. It’s down to the Bairns to prove the Championship really was the strongest league in Scotland this season, and earn themselves a little bit of history.
5 Weight of expectation
Falkirk will play in front of one of the biggest Bairns supports ever on Saturday. Can they live up to that weight of expectation?