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St Johnstone and Livi go head to head for season’s first silverware

Two surprise packages meet in the League Cup final at Hampden.

St Johnstone and Livi go head to head for season’s first silverware SNS Group

The first silverware of the season is on the line on Sunday when Livingston and St Johnstone go head to head in the Betfred Cup final.

The Premiership sides meet at Hampden at 2pm with both sides dreaming of holding the trophy aloft and finishing what have been dream runs to make it to the final two.

Celtic’s recent dominance of the competition has come to an end with the defending champions suffering a second round knockout, meaning there will be a new name on the trophy for the first time since 2016.

Livingston are looking to win the tournament for the first time since 2004, when they won their only major silverware, while St Johnstone have been beaten finalists twice but never been named winners.

That makes it all the more remarkable that the men who lead both teams are in their first season in management.

Former Scotland international Callum Davidson was given the job of following Tommy Wright as St Johnstone boss and has made the transition from coaching to being number one with no apparent difficulty.

Saints are currently eighth in the table and clear of the relegation places and he has guided the team through the group stage and past Motherwell, Dunfermline and Hibernian to reach the final.

“It is a huge game if you look at the history of the club,” Davidson said ahead of the game. “We don’t get there very often.

“It is only three times before we’ve reached a national cup final so I think it is a massive opportunity to try to land a major trophy, probably a bit like Livingston.

“We are probably both very similar and it is a great opportunity for either club to win one.

“It is just a little disappointing that it is a time of Covid-19 for fans but I don’t think that will take away from the game and what it means to the players and to be the first group of players to win the Betfred Cup would be a massive achievement.

“In 20 years’ time they can look back and say they were the first team to win the Betfred Cup with St Johnstone.

“I would be delighted but most importantly it is about the players and I hope they achieve what I know they can achieve.”

Even without the final Livingston boss David Martindale would have had a remarkable year. The 46-year-old background has become well known and he completed a remarkable journey when appointed manager three months ago, having previously spent time in prison and begun rebuilding his life by volunteering at the club.

He was hailed inside and outside of football as a model for rehabilitation but also impressed with his work in the dugout. A remarkable unbeaten run showed Livingston’s strength and they came through a close match against St Mirren to reach the final.

Martindale believes trophy success would help repay the support he has had along the way but is disappointed there won’t be fans at Hampden to enjoy the occasion.

“We were all delighted we got back to playing football but as the season goes on, I think you can see how much football misses the fans,” he said.

“We went on a 14-game unbeaten run, we are in a national final. For our fans to be missing that is typical Livingston. I am gutted for them.

“But the recent exposure I have had, or the club has had through myself getting made the manager, I think has been incredible. It’s been incredibly positive.

“And I think there will be fans up and down the country tuning in to hopefully watch Livingston lift the League Cup.”

For the players,. the overriding aim is to know that when the final whistle sounds, they have given their all and have no cause for regret. Livingston’s Jason Holt has lost out in cup finals for Hearts and Rangers and will use that feeling on Sunday.

“It might help a little,” he said of his previous experience. “Obviously I will try and use my experience but I just remember the feeling of being on the wrong side of the final and how much that hurt.

“I just want to use that to drive me on and make sure that I’m on the right side this time.”

The 28-year-old added: “Sometimes they don’t come around too often. You might only get to one cup final in your career, some players don’t get to any.

“My message would be to embrace it but don’t let it pass you by.”

St Johnstone’s Callum Booth is planning to savour the occasion and believes it will be the biggest match he has played in.

“I have never played in a national cup final so it doesn’t really get much bigger than that,” he said.

“I have been around a bit now and there have been a few big games in my career, but thinking about it, a national cup final at Hampden, it would be the biggest game of my career.

“It will mean a huge deal to me. It is absolutely massive and to win a trophy would be amazing.”

The national stadium may not be packed with fans but both sides know that their support will be cheering them on from afar.

For Livi boss Martindale, the game is just one more reason to be cheerful.

“The fans are delighted that there is a little bit of light this weekend,” he said. “The vaccination programme is getting rolled out, I think we can all see a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel. There is a cup final coming up.

“So I think the fans are in a better place and hopefully we can lift the trophy and put them in an even better place.”