COLLIN SAMUEL'S last trip to Hampden ended in heartache but last night he ensured a return visit as he fired St Johnstone into a Scottish Cup semi-final showdown next month.
The Trinidadian hit the only goal of a nervy replay against Second Division Brechin at McDiarmid Park to set up a last-four clash with Motherwell or Cup holders Dundee United.
Samuel reached the final six years ago while at Tannadice, going on as a sub for the man who is now his boss at Perth, Derek McInnes, but it ended in tears as they lost 1-0 to Celtic.
McInnes has since been back to Hampden as manager when he led Saints to a 2008 Scottish Cup semi-final that they lost on penalties to Rangers.
Last night's battling win against the Hedgemen clinched an impressive fifth major semi-final for Saints in just four years and they're now only 90 minutes away from their first final appearance since losing to Rangers at Parkhead in the 1999 League Cup Final.
Boss McInnes, who has lost Peter MacDonald for the semi-final after the striker's late booking, said: "I don't think anyone can deny the better team won.
"I've only been here four and a half years and I've been to two semi-finals as a player and two as a manager. We've lost to the eventual winners every time so hopefully we can address that and get ourselves to the final.
"We know we can't win the league but we can win the cup. From the outset I've had a real belief - maybe that's me dreaming but I believe the players can be successful.
"Peter MacDonald's booking was harsh and for him to miss a semi-final because of it is really disappointing."
Brechin boss Jim Weir made it to the match after being rescued by his wife, Saints commercial manager Susan, when his car broke down on the way back from a business trip to Leeds.
It was then his job to make sure his players were motoring on their live TV debut but Saints started better.
They carved out the first opportunity when Danny Grainger fed MacDonald and the striker crossed for Samuel but he couldn't direct his volley on target.
The visitors suffered an early setback when defender Paul McLean hobbled off to be replaced by David White but they survived the bigger blow of falling behind thanks to expert goalkeeping.
Liam Craig's cross into the box was headed out by Gerry McLauchlan to Danny Invincibile who rifled in a shot that looked netbound until ex-Saint Craig Nelson superbly turned it away.
But the danger wasn't over. From the resulting corner, Grainger's delivery was touched on by MacDonald to Invincibile and his shot was heading goalwards until it deflected off team-mate Samuel in a crowded penalty area.
Brechin almost snatched a shock lead after Steven Anderson's slip had gifted David McKenna possession. McKenna released Rory McAllister but his angled shot failed to hit the target.
Invincible then spurned a third good opportunity when he shot wide from Chris Millar's cross.
Brechin went close again. Craig Molloy had a shot blocked but the ball broke to Gary Fusco who forced a good save from Peter Enckelman.
The home side took the lead nine minutes before the break.
Murray Davidson chipped the ball into the box for Samuel, whose first attempt was blocked by McLauchlan but the striker didn't give up and reacted first to the rebound to hit a shot across Nelson and into the bottom corner.
McLauchlan and Samuel battled it out again in first-half injury time with the Brechin stopper appearing to haul the striker to the ground but referee Steve Conroy waved away penalty claims.
Saints kept pressing in the second half with MacDonald heading just over from a Grainger corner. But they couldn't come up with a killer second goal.
Brechin refused to give in as they clung on to their dream of an upset and threatened on the counter-attack.
In the end, the goal the travelling fans craved didn't arrive but the Brechin players had done themselves proud.
Boss Weir, a former St Johnstone favourite, said: "I'm delighted with the effort I got from the players.
"The save their keeper made at 0-0 was maybe the turning point and then their goal was an excellent finish from Samuel.
"I'm disappointed for Brechin as a club but I wish St Johnstone well and I hope they go on to win the cup because they played a big part in my career."