The 2017/18 season officially gets underway tomorrow as we welcome Ladbrokes Premiership side Partick Thistle to West Lothian for our opening match in the Betfred Cup Group Stage.
This marks the second season of the new format for the competition that both ourselves and Thistle have won in the past. We all remember our 2-0 win over Hibernian in the 2004 Final but one of the most famous finals in the competition’s history took place in 1971 as Thistle claimed a stunning 4-1 win over Jock Stein’s Celtic.
Our other rivals in Group H are St Mirren, Airdrieonians and Stranraer. Teams will play each other once, with two home and two away games each. Three points are awarded for a win and one for a draw, though a penalty shoot-out will take place after any drawn game during the group stage with an additional point awarded to the winner.
Back in the present day, Thistle are preparing for their fifth season in the top flight and will be looking to build on their impressive sixth place finish last season. Livi of course are gearing up for their return to the Championship after running away with the League One title last term and both sides will look at today’s match as a crucial part of their preparations.
So let’s take a look at the two sides ahead of today’s match.
How have pre-season preparations been going?
Livi have faced a total of four friendly clashes in the build-up to today’s match, taking on three Premiership sides in Hearts, Motherwell and Kilmarnock as well as a glamour clash with Sunderland. Though all four ended in defeat, there was enough in the Lions’ performances to give hope for the season ahead.
Thistle have played just one ‘open-doors’ friendly in advance of today’s match – a 2-1 defeat to our divisional rivals Dumbarton on Tuesday night. They were preceded by two closed-door clashes against Southend United and Hampton & Richmond Borough, both of which ended in goalless draws.
What happened last time?
You have to go back to 2013 for the last time the two sides met and it was an afternoon to forget for Richie Burke’s Livi team as they suffered a 6-1 thumping by a Jags side closing in on the First Division title and promotion to the top flight. The two sides have met a total of 37 times since they first met in a League Cup clash in 1995, which the Jags won 2-1 at Almondvale. The overall head-to-head between the sides is fairly even, with the Lions winning 12 and Thistle 15, with 10 draws.
The sides have met three times in Cup competitions over the years and every time the spoils have gone the way of the men from Maryhill. As well as the League Cup win of 1995, they also edged a Scottish Cup tie 2-1 in 2001 at Firhill before sending us out of the ‘big cup’ again in 2008, this time on penalties after a 1-1 draw. Here’s hoping for a change in fortunes today!
Has it been a busy summer?
Livi have welcomed back former No.1 Neil Alexander alongside new faces Dylan Mackin, Scott Robinson, Josh Peters and Ross Brown over the course of the summer. Nikolay Todorov has also returned to the club on a season-long loan from Hearts after impressing during the second half of our title-winning campaign last season.
A few have headed out the exit door, most notably captain Sean Crighton and top scorer Liam Buchanan, who have joined Brechin City and Raith Rovers respectively. Goalkeeper Liam Kelly has returned to Rangers after his successful spell on loan.
Our visitors have had a far quieter summer, welcoming Blair Spittal from Dundee United alongside young keeper Jamie Sneddon who joined from Cowdenbeath. Niall Keown has also made a permanent move to Firhill having spent the second half of last season on loan from Reading. Liam Lindsay (to Barnsley) and Ade Azeez (to Cambridge United) are the two highest-profile departures from Alan Archibald’s squad.
What do the bookies think?
Unsurprisingly, the tournament sponsors make Thistle warm favourites to win tomorrow at 19/20. If you fancy a shock, Livi can be backed at 11/4 with 5/2 on the draw.
Looking at the group as a whole, Thistle are odds-on favourites to qualify for the last-16 at 4/5, followed by St Mirren at 9/4, Livi at 5/1 with League One sides Airdrie and Stranraer rank outsiders.
If you’re feeling REALLY ambitious, Betfred go 33/1 for Thistle to be celebrating at Hampden in November. Livi’s chances aren’t rated quite so highly, with the chances of yellow and black ribbons on the trophy at the National Stadium currently rated at 200/1!
How much is it to get in?
It’s just £10 for adults to get in to tomorrow’s match, with kids and OAPs getting in for a fiver!
Home fans will be housed in the West Stand, with visiting supporters occupying the East Stand (furthest away as you approach the stadium by road).
Hope to see you there!