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Magic at St Johnstone

DON'T expect David Wotherspoon to start banging on about the magic of the Scottish Cup any time soon.

Wotherspoon has found his place in the sun back in Perth. Photograph: SNS
Wotherspoon has found his place in the sun back in Perth. Photograph: SNS

Cup-final day is supposed to be one of the happiest, most momentous times in a player's life, but to date the St Johnstone player has only found them brutal, miserable occasions.

The back story goes like this: in each of the last two seasons, the 24-year-old has played his part in taking Hibs to the showpiece, only to be informed by Pat Fenlon shortly beforehand that he wouldn't actually be participating.

Instead of sharing a proud moment with family and friends, he has struggled to look them in the eye - his mood hardly helped by the fact that Fenlon admitted to him after the 5-1 final defeat to Hearts that his omission was a mistake, prior to making it all over again 12 months later.

The narrative has a happy ending of sorts: understandably feeling unloved at Easter Road, he moved back to his first club and boyhood favourites last summer and after a decent first season finds himself with the chance to return to the final in St Johnstone colours.

To do that, however, first the Perth side must defy a dismal semi-final record of seven defeats in the last 15 years, not to mention overcoming an Aberdeen side who routed them 4-0 in the last four of the League Cup and against whom they have had no joy all season long.

"My brother Ian and his wife Hazel are going to the game," said Wotherspoon last night. "The last time they went was Hibs against Celtic and I had to walk up to them and tell them I wasn't involved. They were gutted but hopefully this time I will be involved and can play a big part in it.

"Ultimately at Hibs I felt I wasn't valued," he added. "When the biggest game of the season comes along, if you are in the starting 11 it means you are a big player. If you are on the bench you are part of it. If you're in the stands you just feel you are not needed at all. That's exactly how I felt. I felt I needed to move on and this season has been a great season so far."

Lines of communication with Tommy Wright are certainly clearer than with Fenlon. "It's amazing what a little thing like that can do for a player," he said. "Just speaking to them, even for a couple of minutes, helps a lot mentally and it can help your game quite a bit. I felt I didn't get that at Hibs and I think a lot of the boys felt that."

It is an oft-repeated fact that St Johnstone have never won a major title, and few desire to correct that anomaly more than Wotherspoon.

Born in Perth and brought up in nearby Bridge of Earn, he was taken to the Perth side's games as a boy, including the famous Uefa Cup meeting with a star-studded Monaco. "When I was younger it was Nick Dasovic and Paul Kane in the centre of midfield who I looked up to," he said. "Also guys like Allan Preston and Alan Main. They got into Europe and played Monaco and that was fantastic.

"I went to the home game with my dad and brother, and it was great to see so many big-name players like Fabien Barthez, David Trezeguet and Marco Simone. The names stick in your head. Hopefully we can replicate what they did and start by getting to a final on Sunday."

Wotherspoon takes gripes about the club's paltry support-base personally. The criticisms will re-emerge today, with only 3000 tickets sold for Ibrox. "Perth is not that big but if we can get our name out there with things like the European ties at the start of the season when everyone in Scotland was looking out for us, then it is definitely a club that can expand," he said. "Obviously at the moment things are just ticking along but getting to a final and winning a cup would be a massive boost."

Who knows where Wotherspoon would be right now had he stayed at St Johnstone, but he was snapped up by Celtic, before following his old St Johnstone youth coach Alistair Stevenson to Hibs.

The pair are back together again in Perth, and Wotherspoon doesn't regret any of his decisions. The player has represented Scotland at every age-group short of the full side, making a particular impression with the winning goal as Scotland's Under-21s beat Holland on their own patch. A full call-up seems remote right now, but Wotherspoon hasn't given up hope.

"I have played for every age level for Scotland and I want to take that on and play for the full squad," he said. "That would be fantastic for me but I have to keep my head down and work as hard as a I can and if I can add a few goals to my game then maybe I will get noticed."

His manager agrees - but then perhaps that is those clearer lines of communication. "The one thing with David is that I don't know if he realises how good he can be," said Wright. "He is a really good technician and someone who has contributed a lot this season.

"He should be looking at eight to 10 goals a season and I think he only has one this season. That's an area where we will try and work with him and give him the confidence."

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