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Croft targets final after last-minute, last-four injury . . .

HIS family and friends were all heading north for the big occasion, the tickets acquired with the blue and white vuvuzelas presumably ready to trumpet his arrival to the Ibrox pitch.

Lee Croft, though, had to phone his nearest and dearest with the worst of news - he had pulled up in training the day before and would miss Sunday's William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final against Aberdeen.

Thankfully, the St Johnstone midfielder's team-mates managed to get the job done without him, and Croft now has his sights set on a return to Glasgow, this time to Celtic Park, for the final against Dundee United. This weekend brings a dress rehearsal of that game, at McDiarmid Park, and Croft will once again have to sit on the sidelines as he takes every precaution with his troubled hamstring. "I tweaked it during training at Celtic on the Saturday," he explained. "I came off early after I felt it. I had treatment all day and the gaffer gave me until Sunday morning. I went out with the physio, did a few tests but it wasn't right.

"You just have to be honest and I didn't want to do myself or the team an injustice. My game is all about being dynamic and explosive power. I couldn't do that so if I had gone out there and risked it, I might have caused more damage or torn it so I made the correct decision in the end.

"I was absolutely devastated. I had a lot of my family and friends up from England for the game. They thought I was winding them up when I called to say I was out of the game. It was a nightmare. Thankfully the lads pulled through for me and we've a final to look forward to."

The 28-year-old former Oldham player, whose career began at a pre-oil rich Manchester City, has become firm friends with 27-goal striker Stevie May during two spells at the Perth club and believes the forward is capable of playing at a much higher level.

"Stevie scored two great goals and he is definitely capable of playing down south," Croft said. "He is still learning but Stevie has matured a lot since the last time I was here.

"I always believed he had a lot of ability but coming back two years later I have noticed a massive difference in him.

"I can only see him continuing to progress. He is very confident and it was good for him the way he has broken into the team, going out on loan a couple of times to Alloa and Hamilton and scoring a lot of goals.

"He got his chance here in pre-season and really seized it. Stevie has scored goals at every level and is just a natural goalscorer.

"You never know, lads have gone from Scotland to the Premier League. He has scored as many goals and he is also younger as well. I can just see him getting better and better."

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