Strachan: It won't be fantastic tonight

Last updated : 28 January 2009 By Mikbhoy

But Dundee United stand between his side and a place in the Co-operative Insurance Cup final and Strachan knows they couldn't have got a tougher draw.

Paul Hartley scores at Tannadice in a 1-1 draw earlier in the season
Both SPL matches between the teams this season have finished in draws meaning that Celtic have yet to beat the men from Tannadice this term "It's a test for everyone this year who plays against Dundee United," said Strachan. "They're hard to beat. Everybody finds it difficult to play against them because they've got a good team spirit, good players and they're well-organised. We're very aware now that we're playing against a team that we've not beat this year and to get to the final we must beat them. So the players are focused. The training sessions have been good. The players are pleased with their performance at the weekend, and so they should be."

Celtic looked to have put themselves in a comfortable position when they went two goals up against United in the SPL match earlier this month at Celtic Park but the Terrors fought back to earn a creditable draw which saw them snatch a share of the points. "We've proved against them that we're hard to beat as well," continued the Celtic gaffer, "so we do get that respect from them because they play so well against us, and it's mutual. I like their spirit. I like the spirit shown by Lee Wilkie, for example, who's had an incredibly bad injury run but has come back to play the way he has done - I think he's been one of the best players in Scotland over the past couple of years. They've picked up guys from around Britain and Europe who've got to Dundee United and decided to give it a real go. Add that together with good management and you've got a good side. I'm a big admirer of what they've done."

Scott Brown will be one of tonight's key players and the £4.4m buy from Hibernian is beginning to look a bargain at that price. "Last year we had glimpses in games of what he can do, but not with this level of consistency." said his boss "That's been a huge thing this season, and Scott's shown he is understanding what his game is all about. We're saying to him, 'you can't just run forward all the time, you've got to time it just right and you can't go and isolate other midfield players and leave them on their own', which he did when he played with Hibs. He could just run forward because they only had one striker, but we've got two strikers and he has to time his runs a bit more. When he's made his runs they are effective, that's for sure, and he's also done a smashing job defensively. He's got natural enthusiasm, and also great physical abilities, which he works at to keep fit. He looks after his body and add that together he's getting more intelligent in his play and where to go - so you're getting a real valuable player for us."

The other semi-final was played last night between Rangers and Falkirk (the Huns won 3-0) and attracted around 24,000 supporters at the same Hampden venue. The BBC are showing this game live and ticket sales so far have been sluggish which would suggest that there could be an even smaller crowd at the National Stadium tonight but Celtic boss Strachan can fully understand why the fans may choose to stay at home at this time "I think it is more to do with economics than football," said the gaffer. "To get there is not easy on a Wednesday night, the game is on television and how many times have we played Dundee United recently? It is quite repetitive. But you can't say the football is bad because the last time Dundee United and Celtic played it was 2-2, a terrific game. Rangers and Dundee United drew 3-3 so it is not the quality of the football that is keeping people away. In two games with the Old Firm and Dundee United, we have had 10 goals."

Ex-Celt Steven Pressley, now with Falkirk, slammed the state of the Hampden pitch after last night's game and called it a disgrace. "It's such poor quality, it cuts up, it's bobbly, soft under foot and all aspects of the playing surface are very disappointing." said Elvis ""I heard Gordon say he was a recent Queen's Park game and was considering changing his starting XI for their semi-final because of the standard of the pitch. That should never be a consideration for a manager in the semi-final of one of our national cup competitions. If we want to get supporters out of their houses to watch matches we have to provide the right type of football and that pitch isn't conducive to producing it. I can't say if it should be replaced but certainly there is an expectation that semi-finals, finals and important international matches are played on a top-level surface and that one out there is a million miles from that."

"It is not great," agreed Strachan. "It's a bit rough, as anyone who saw the Scottish Cup tie between Queen's Park and Peterhead would see. So it won't be fantastic."