KEITH LASLEY knows what it is like to lose a cup final.
"I'm still trying to forget about that," he sighed. "It wisnae great." The Motherwell captain will line up against Inverness Caledonian Thistle tonight with a little sympathy for those before him.
For all the furore surrounding the end of Aberdeen's so-called '19 years of hurt', nearly 23 years have passed since Stevie Kirk's extra-time header last brought a trophy back to Lanarkshire. But unlike some of the abject sides that have stained Pittodrie in recent times, Motherwell have actually had an incisive, even dominant, team that arguably should have won something. They got closest in the 2011 Scottish Cup, but then at the same time not very close at all, beaten 3-0 in a painful anti-climax by Celtic.
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Lasley pointed out that Inverness have nothing of which to be ashamed, and that a showpiece mauling would have taken longer to heal. Taking the strongly fancied Aberdeen to penalties was better than most had predicted. Still, a second long trip to Glasgow in the space of a few days must sap the energy from already weary legs.
"Och, I don't know," Lasley said. "I think the fans will be looking at it and think 'they've went to extra-time' and see it maybe as a good thing for us. But they might be happy to get a game, maybe if they've got a week to stew on it, it might be worse."
All season, Stuart McCall and his Motherwell squad have been playing down where they can finish in the SPFL Premiership. The message from Fir Park has been transmitted softly. First it was the top six, then they were "just taking it game by game". As the run-in becomes more and more run, though, second place is in sight.
"You know . . ." Lasley paused. "Yeah, let's go for it. We get to the split and then after that it's five cup finals. For the manager to keep shuffling the pack every summer, budgets dropping as we go through the years, it's a testament to everybody that we're in the mix. If we [finish second], it'd be our best achievement."
Ross Draper has signed a new deal with Inverness, proving that the week has not been without its good news for John Hughes. Though, when weighing this up against the cup final loss, it is not so much the balance of 'yin and yang' as 'yin and y-', and that is being exceedingly generous.
Still, Draper's contract represented the last bit of business that Hughes had to conduct this season; the rest of his squad mainstays are all tied up for the next campaign.
"I've just played in front of 50,000 people in a cup final and, with all due respect, had I stayed in England I'd have been scrapping for relegation or playing away on Tuesday night at some lower-league ground," Draper said. "I'm really pleased I made the right decision."