YOU can hardly call it the New Firm when that term itself is more than 30 years old and one half currently seems so infirm, but Aberdeen against Dundee United is one of the enduring match-ups of our game. And when they meet on Scottish Cup duty, as they do at Pittodrie today, it is usually wise to expect fireworks.

That term dates back to the 1980s, when Sir Alex Ferguson and Jim McLean’s redoubtable teams used to battle it out for honours, but circa 2018 Aberdeen and Dundee United exist in different orbits. The former, under the watchful eye of Derek McInnes, might be well placed to hang on to the coat-tails of Celtic at the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership, but United have fallen upon hard times. Having lost out on promotion under Ray McKinnon in the play-off final to Hamilton Accies, they must watch that they don’t find the odds similarly stacked against them this year under Csaba Laszlo as they endeavour to avoid a crippling third season in Scotland’s second tier.

The two teams haven’t met in the Scottish Cup since January 2006 and an eventful little encounter at Tannadice, which saw United squander a two-goal half time lead in a match which saw assistant manager Billy Dodds and Aberdeen boss Jimmy Calderwood getting involved in a contretemps on the sideline. Chisholm, and Dodds, both left the club shortly afterwards.

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Younger readers may find it hard to believe that there was a time when Scottish Cup replays seemed to continue forever until a winner was found. The teams met on no fewer than 15 occasions in the ‘87-88 and ‘88-89 seasons, including two cup meetings where the teams couldn’t be separated until a third replay, the result each time going in favour of Jim McLean’s United. The 1988 semi-final was particularly infamous.

Having drawn 0-0 in the first match, the replay at Dens Park was enlivened by a red card against Paul Hegarty for a tackle on Charlie Nicholas. McLean, incensed that Nicholas had dived and Aberdeen skipper Willie Miller had influenced his decision, left his perch in the directors’ box to confront both Nicholas and Miller on the pitch, promptly earning a £4,000 fine and a three-year touchline ban. McLean announced afterwards that he was quitting, but he was persuaded to return.

This sort of stuff was meet and drink to Jim McInally, but the midfielder’s real claim to fame in this fixture came when he was reaching veteran stage. This was the Scottish Cup semi-final from April 1994, and the year United finally put their hoodoo in Scotland’s main cup competition to rest. The inspiration of Ivan Golac, Ally Maxwell’s mistake and Craig Brewster’s goal in the final lives on in the memory, but it wouldn’t have happened were it not for McInally’s close range goal against the Dons in a dour Hampden replay in front of a sparse crowd in the semi-final replay. “Personally, that was a dream come true for me, because you always want to score at Hampden and to do so in such a big game was fantastic,” McInally, now Peterhead manager. ““I was playing right back, believe it or not, when I scored that goal, and it was Dave Bowman, who was playing midfield, who went through the other side. Both of us were barely up the park!

“For the likes of me, Dave and Maurice Malpas, the cup just became an obsession. We had had two great opportunities to win it [against Motherwell and St Mirren] and to have to walk past it was heart-breaking. Ivan had declared right at the start of that competition that we were going to win the Scottish Cup that year and I think we believed him, because we didn’t show any fear. There was always that rivalry between Aberdeen and Dundee United from just before I arrived at the club. They were big games to play in and we came up against each other a few times in terrific semi finals at Dens Park. The place was always jam-packed.”

United’s cup hoodoo has long since past, but the odds are stacked against them today, not least as McInally feels the Tannadice side are still feeling the effects of what he felt was the harsh sacking of McKinnon. “United will never be as big underdogs in any game against Aberdeen as they are this week. Aberdeen win every other game and will see this as their best chance of a trophy. United have nothing to lose and will give them a game but they have been weakened dramatically losing Fraser Fyvie and Scott Fraser.”