THE drama of cup football often provides players with the most vivid memories of their careers, and for St Johnstone striker Jason Scotland tonight's CIS Insurance Cup semi-final encounter with Hibs has had him recalling his "pride and joy".
The 27-year-old sprang off the bench to spark Dundee United's revival against the Easter Road side in the Scottish Cup semi-final of April 2005, netting the winner in a brilliant cameo lasting barely half an hour. Saints will this evening be hoping the Trinidad & Tobago international can perform similar heroics against opposition who are even bigger favourites than in that match at Hampden, where Hibs once again failed to cope with the pressure of expectation that accompanies them in cup competitions.
Scotland certainly appears to be relishing the First Division's role of massive underdogs as they bid to seal a hat-trick of SPL scalps after stunning Dundee United and then Rangers at Ibrox in the last round.
"I have happy memories of that semi-final at Hampden," he said. "Hopefully we can get the performance on Wednesday and get there with St Johnstone. It is my pride and joy of Scottish football, to come on against Hibs in a semi-final and score a goal and change the game and put United into the Scottish Cup final. Scoring a goal to get us through to the final would be a dream for me and for the club."
Dundee United's victory nearly two years ago was just the latest in a long line of cup disappointments for Hibs, who have only two League Cup triumphs to enjoy from the last 105 years of near things. The longer the wait for a trophy goes on the more desperate their followers crave success and Scotland is aware of the stresses the opposition will find themselves under at Tynecastle this evening. "They've been to various semi- finals and never went to finals," he added, "so there will be a lot of pressure on them to produce. But I hope to spoil the party like I did at Hampden."
Saints manager Owen Coyle has great admiration for Hibs, having studied John Collins' side four times in the last month in preparation for the tie.
He describes the Easter Road men as "the most entertaining team in the country in full flight" but knows from his own bitter experience as a player with Airdrie, when they lost the 1992 Scottish Cup final 2-1 to Rangers, that his squad must go into the match with confidence if they are to have any chance.
"If we had had a genuine belief from the outset we might have won that cup final," he said. "Having learned that from my own playing experience I'll try and make sure my players do have the belief on Wednesday night.
"As underdogs you can achieve and you don't want to have any regrets." Coyle is confident Peter MacDonald will be fit to face Hibs after the striker suffered a knee injury at the weekend. However, Willie McLaren and Derek Lilley are cup-tied, which means Andy Jackson, Willie Dyer and Steven Doris all come into contention.
Steven Milne, who scored both goals in St Johnstone's quarter-final victory over Rangers, is still out following knee surgery.