Why Celtic win is good for Hearts as Aberdeen Scottish Cup exit all but eliminates Euro group stage risk

On paper, avoiding the Old Firm at any stage of the Scottish Cup is usually welcomed.

And with Hearts to face Rangers at Hampden in the last four for a place in the final, logic would dictate that Aberdeen dumping Celtic out in the other semi-final would theoretically make for an easier final, should Steven Naismith's side pull off their own shock against Rangers. But the Jambos have one eye on next season and the bank balance.

The Scottish Cup winners are allocated a spot in the playoff round of next season's Europa League, knowing that defeat would see them drop straight into the group stage of the Europa Conference League, banking the £5million prize money that comes with it. That was the case in 2022, when the Tynecastle side beat city rivals Hibs in the semi, knowing they'd be facing either of the big two in the final. As it was, Rangers were their opponents and won 2-0 after extra-time.

The Dons still had the potential to throw a spanner in the works this year. A Dandies win at Hampden over the Hoops would have meant a nervy wait for the capital club if they hadn't joined them, or immense pressure to win the final and not let the Euro jackpot slip through their fingers and into Aberdeen's hands instead.

But Celtic's penalty shoot-out triumph has all but guaranteed Hearts an extended Euro adventure next term. It's not quite rubber-stamped, as third place in the Premiership isn't mathematically certain quite yet. But with five games to play and nearest challengers Kilmarnock 11 points behind, it's surely only a matter of time.

Naismith returns to his old club for the first post-split fixture, and a win at Rugby Park would seal the deal. Three points would open up a gap of 14 with only 12 left on the table.