More than at any time in the season to date, the ‘Great Emptiness’ will make itself felt in Scottish football at Saturday’s Edinburgh derby at Hampden Park in the deferred semi-final of the 2019-20 Scottish Cup. This encounter will evoke memories of the battering inflicted by Hearts on their arch rivals in the 2012 final while, for Hibernians’ partisans, the sweetest recollection will be of the trophy success in 2016 against Rangers, which ended 114 years of failure in the tournament. Then on Sunday, Hampden hosts a rematch of the 2017 final between Celtic and Aberdeen when Tom Rogic’s late strike secured an astonishing unbeaten domestic treble for the Hoops, then under the guidance of Brendan Rodgers. This time, Neil Lennon will attempt to steer Celtic to the brink of a fourth consecutive clean sweep of the domestic honours against a Dons team who twice led them in last week’s league encounter. Meanwhile, Sunday’s noon kick-off at Rugby Park sees Kilmarnock face a Rangers side determined to post a nine-point advantage over Celtic in the Scottish Premiership. In normal times, such a combination of high-octane occasions would see the roads to Glasgow and Ayrshire thronged with exuberant, expectant fans but, even in their absence, the same expectation remains, albeit from a distance. When Hearts take the field on Saturday afternoon, they should have motivation honed by resentment at their relegation from the Premiership in last season’s truncated campaign, an indignity voted for by most of their peers in the top division. Manager Robbie Nielson disclosed that he brought his squad together for an earlier than usual pre-season, with this tie specifically in mind. Hearts are very nearly at full strength, with captain, Steven Naismith, along with midfielders Peter Haring and Andy Halliday, all expected to start. Hibs, meanwhile, can remind themselves that they remain the only team to annexe the trophy other than Celtic in the last four years. Jamie Murphy and Drey Wright have missed recent league fixtures, but manager Jack Ross declared himself “optimistic” about the pair’s participation, although it remains to be seen whether he will be able to call upon his experienced full-back, Lewis Stevenson, who missed training on Thursday. If the second semi-final is anything like last weekend’s contest at Pittodrie, clean sheets look unlikely. An injury-time penalty by Lewis Ferguson secured a 3-3 draw in which Celtic trailed twice before leading at the end of 90 minutes. “Aberdeen gave us a real challenge last weekend and we expect the game to be pretty similar to the one there,” Lennon said. Of the thwarted optimism about spectators finally being on hand to watch football in stadiums, Lennon added: “They were hoping that, by this stage, we’d have crowds in. That hasn’t been the case, so what do you do? The four teams left in the competition all wanted it to be finished, having earned the right to be there. “We all have the chance of winning silverware. “It would be brilliant for the other clubs but ultimately fantastic for us. It would have been strange had we not been able to finish the competition, but then nothing is normal about what we’re all going through.” Two more victories in this tournament would see Celtic secure a 12th trophy on the spin, a feat which should not be diminished even by the singularity of the context. “I totally agree,” Lennon said. “These players should be given that respect. We’ll never see it again, I don’t think. We can then put last season to bed and everyone can focus on this season. We’ve had a good look at Aberdeen. There’s a familiarity there. We know what we’ll come up against.” Rangers, meanwhile, can say the same about Kilmarnock. On their last visit to Rugby Park in February, Steven Gerrard’s players lost 2-1 as part of a prolonged loss of form which sabotaged a seemingly credible title challenge. This time around, Rangers have been impressively secure, with 10 clean sheets from 12 league games – including a 2-0 home win over Kilmarnock – and as many victories. One of their most impressive performers has been Glen Kamara, who has attracted widespread attention during his 16 appearances this season. “There have been a few games where people probably thought we might drop some points, or we haven’t done as well in the past, but we have picked up points where we probably wouldn’t have,” Kamara said. “The defence has been magnificent. It starts from the top, with the strikers, the No 10s, the wide players – they have all been great for us.” Certainly, for Rangers, a paucity of goals conceded is one void to be welcomed during the continuing global pandemic.
Mohamed Elyounoussi netted an outstanding double for Celtic and goalkeeper Scott Bain saved Jonathan David's weak penalty just before halftime but the Ligue 1 side came roaring back with goals from Zeki Celik and Jonathan Ikone. Lennon, whose position has come under heavy scrutiny following defeats to AC Milan and 'Old Firm' rivals Rangers, as well as a 3-3 draw with Aberdeen on Sunday, said he was delighted with the team's character.