St Mirren v Hearts, Sunday 3pm
16 March ~ On paper, Sunday's Scottish League Cup final against Hearts is as good a chance as St Mirren will ever have to lift their first national silverware since 1987. A youthful and enterprising Saints side under the guidance of popular boss Danny Lennon looks as strong a unit as the club has boasted for some time. Not only have they negotiated a league position miles clear of the club’s once-customary relegation battle, but we were treated to the sheer joy of a memorable and deserved semi-final triumph over Celtic.
Two players in their mid-30s have been key, with target-man striker Steven Thompson in the goalscoring form of his life at his home-town club, and another one-time Scotland cap Gary Teale rediscovering the touchline trickery of old out wide. At the other end of the age scale, playmaker Paul McGowan brings Lennon’s possession-based philosophy to life in the middle of the park, while a number of talented home-grown players play key roles around him.
Meanwhile, our financially stricken opponents suddenly look removed from the Hearts sides that have routinely bullied St Mirren in recent years; they are a mixture of unfamiliar youngsters and the odd quality leftover from bigger-spending days. A 2-0 league win by Saints in a dress rehearsal for the final at the end of February has done little to quell the optimism, with around 15,000 fans heading for Hampden in hope. Which could be unfortunate, given Saints often seem at their worst when they should be at their best.
A club that has historically specialised in self-inflicted wounds (being the only one in world football to have sacked Alex Ferguson tops the list), there remain ghosts to be exorcised from our last final. The 2010 League Cup final saw Saints play Walter Smith’s pre-meltdown Rangers off the park. Until the latter went down to ten, and then nine, men. At which point Kenny Miller nodded home the game’s only goal.
Four days later we somehow cuffed Celtic 4-0 at St Mirren Park, begging the question of whether that result made up for the pain of the final defeat. The consensus was that nothing would until we went back to Hampden and returned with a trophy. Sunday’s final is a golden opportunity to do just that. Colin Orr