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Link man Watson, 24, has been over course before

THE obvious youth of Dundee United invites one to consider the crèche facilities at the Old Course Hotel as a group of callow footballers pad about in franchised flip-flops.

Keith Watson contemplates Dundee United's 10th Scottish Cup final in St Andrews. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS
Keith Watson contemplates Dundee United's 10th Scottish Cup final in St Andrews. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS

This impression is only increased by the words of Keith Watson who, at all of 24, is considered a veteran at United as he faces his second Scottish Cup final and was asked what his advanced years had taught him about big occasions and what he could pass down to the youngsters in the side.

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"It is just a case of treating it like any other game and not letting the occasion get to you. You need to keep your head," said Watson, proving he has learned the art of the football truism on his journey from underage football at United to the first team.

Watson is likely to start at right full-back tomorrow and he could be surrounded by younger colleagues in John Souttar, 17, Ryan Gauld, 18, Andrew Robertson, 20, Curtis Good, 21, Stuart Armstrong, Ryan Dow and Nadir Ciftci, all 22, and Gary Mackay-Steven, 23.

"I am sure they will be fine," he said of any apprehensions about the nerves of his mates facing St Johnstone in the William Hill Scottish Cup final. "We've played in big games like the semi-final last year where you had Souttar doing backheels and Gauldy was excellent as well," he said. "Great players can handle it easily. I'll let them know what to expect and not to let the atmosphere and the crowd affect them."

Watson's Scottish Cup final experience was brief but intense. He came on in the 83rd minute of United's 3-0 victory over Ross County in 2010.

"It was great to be on the pitch when the final whistle went. It was a great feeling but it was a bit of a blur at the time. Hopefully I can experience it again on Saturday. This time round I'd like to take it all in and make the most of any celebration," he said.

"Cup finals don't come around that often so to be in a second one in four years is pretty special. Last time round it was great in the changing room with the champagne. There was a few drinks on the bus going back to Dundee and then we were out on the town. It got a bit blurry so there was a few rough heads on the Sunday, that's for sure. We were up for the open-top bus on the Sunday though and that was an amazing experience. It just makes you want to do it again."

Dundee United, despite their youth, are favourites going into the final and Watson pinpoints the reason for this.

"We've got top players going forward and some of the football they've played this season has been sensational," he said. "It's been great to watch and if they are on their game on Saturday I am confident we can go on and win."

United were defeated 3-1 at Celtic Park on Saturday but Watson has cause for optimism over his side's form.

"I thought we knocked the ball about well and it was a good performance but we need to shut up shop a bit defensively," he said.

He made a mistake that led to a Celtic goal but gave an insight into the principles of his manager, Jackie McNamara, saying: "He talks you though everything, he tells us the first pass is important and not to over-complicate things.

"He likes me to get forward. I slipped for the Celtic third goal last week but he told me I had done well and just to keep concentrating. He's helped me a lot."

Watson's history with the former Celtic full-back goes back to his childhood and a time when he was a regular observer of his manager as a player.

"My dad is a big Celtic fan and he took me to games so I remember watching him when I was young. My dad was a big fan of his because he was a great full-back who loved to get forward," he said.

McNamara has already been targeted by English clubs, notably Blackpool, but Watson believes the manager is committed to the club.

"He's happy to continue building something great at Dundee United," he said.

Watson's career has been interrupted by injury but he has endured to become part of a squad that stands 90 minutes away from a second Scottish Cup in five seasons.

"It's always tough when you are going through operations and you are stuck in the gym doing leg weights and stuff while the boys are training," he said. "There are so many times when you think 'I can't be bothered with this today' and you don't want to do it. It's tough watching the lads train and go to games but I never got to a stage when I felt enough."

His challenge now is to overcome a St Johnstone side who have won three of their four encounters this season.

"They have made it hard for us and really got in our faces," he said. "The pitch at McDiarmid Park is tight and not the greatest but you saw at Celtic Park how much we enjoyed passing the ball about. It will be a tight game and it will need something special by someone like Nadir or Gaz [Mackay-Steven] to win it. They can make things happen and it might take a bit of magic."

The veteran of 2010 is happy to rely on the class of 2014.

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