It was with some trepidation that Hamilton Academical welcomed Stevie May back to New Douglas Park, the striker having scored 26 times while on loan in Lanarkshire last term. So it was perhaps scant surprise that St Johnstone advanced past this testing tie thanks, in the most part, to the interventions of the Scotland under-21 forward.
He was just one of four former Hamilton players in an experienced Perth XI but the return of Brian Easton, Gary McDonald and even Nigel Hasselbaink did not concern the hosts as much as that of May. Such predictability did not compromise his prominence. Two goals and a performance full of vim and vigour justified Hamilton's concerns and ensured Tommy Wright's men move into the quarter-finals of the Scottish League Cup.
The victory would have been merited even without May, given the accomplished manner in which they handled the tie, but the efforts of the 20-year-old made it easier. It took him just four minutes to set the Perth side on their way, Steven MacLean directing Dave Mackay's deep delivery back across goal for May to direct a header away from Kevin Cuthbert. "It was a great move, with lots of great components," observed a delighted Wright.
It was only the fifth goal Hamilton had conceded in 10 matches this term but, while the protection offered in front of the back four by player-manager Alex Neil has proved sufficient in the SPFL Championship, it was found to be less robust against St Johnstone's front three of May, MacLean and Hasselbaink.
The latter repeatedly found pockets of space in which to wriggle; one such burst culminated in a scuffed shot, while MacLean should have done better than prod a finish against Cuthbert when he was played through after another.
On that occasion, the rebound evaded May and so, too, did another Mackay cross following a patient move, but the striker's desire to harm his former team-mates was not diminished. A dunt from distance was fielded by Cuthbert but the former St Johnstone goalkeeper was culpable as the visitors confirmed their win with four minutes remaining.
Gwion Edwards broke into the box and, although Cuthbert appeared to have thwarted the substitute, the ball squirted under his body and gave the Welshman the chance to jab over the line. May, though, was not content to leave without further franking his threat, assuming possession 25 yards out and spanking an outrageous stoppage-time shot over a gawping Cuthbert.
"David Wotherspoon made a great run but there's no way he was getting a pass," said Wright. "We know Stevie can score that kind of goal but I was more pleased with his first because it was inside the box."
While sore at the outcome, the contest at least allowed Hamilton to gauge themselves against top-flight opposition. Five points clear at the summit of the SPFL Championship, they will have come to appreciate the gulf in speed, both in terms of thought and deed, between sides from the respective divisions.
Neil's side found space and time restricted, meaning they were restricted to efforts from distance. Their best, by Tony Andreu towards the end of the opening quarter, kissed the frame of the goal with Allan Mannus beaten and, although the French midfielder alarmed the custodian with another lash and both Mikey Devlin and Martin Canning directed Ali Crawford deliveries goalwards, St Johnstone's defence were resolute enough to handle whatever else Hamilton could muster.
"I didn't think it was a 3-0 but they were more clinical," said Neil. "It just shows the difference between the two divisions."