Nine years on and Jason Scotland still bears a grudge, convinced a Scottish Cup winner against Hibs was behind a decision which put his football career on the line.
Although he’d spent two seasons with Dundee United the Trinidad and Tobago striker’s bid to extend his work permit was rejected by a football review panel, the official explanation being he’d spent too much time on the bench to be considered an integral part of the Tannadice squad.
But to this day Scotland believes the fact three of his five goals, including that Hampden winner, were the real reason given four of the five-strong panel which considered his application had Easter Road connections.
And that belief, he insisted, will drive him on tomorrow night as Championship outfit Hamilton bid to swap places with Hibs in the Scottish Premiership, New Douglas Park hosting the first leg of a double-header to decide which of the clubs will be playing top flight football next season.
Now 35, Scotland said: “Yes. I still feel sore. It’s a few years ago now, but it still niggles away.
“It was my career, my livelihood that was being taken away. I’d spent a lot of time coming off the bench for United because it takes people time to get used to the Scottish game and at that stage I wasn’t up to speed.
“There were also a lot of good players in the SPL back then and I was taking my time to get going.
“The decision said they thought I was not good enough to play in the SPL, but I went to the World Cup, I went down south and played in the English Premiership and the Championship. But at that time I wanted to stay at United and they didn’t really give me a chance.”
Asked if the same decision could well have been reached by a panel comprising mainly of, say, people with connections to Aberdeen or Dundee, Scotland said: “Perhaps they would not have voted against me.
“I scored goals against Hibs. I knocked them out of the Scottish Cup – so I feel that was behind what happened.”
United were left furious by the ruling in the summer of 2005, their anger fuelled when St Johnstone, then in the First Division, successfully applied for a work permit for a player who had arrived on trial on Tayside having scored 30 goals in just 31 league games for Trinidadian club Defence Force.
It was a move which paid off for Scotland, 42 goals for the Saints inviting a bid from Swansea City, where he hit 58 goals before he moved to Wigan, Ipswich Town and Barnsley after which he pitching up in Lanarkshire as a free transfer in January. Scotland, capped 41 times for the Soca Warriors, said: “I wanted to stay with United back then, but I took a step back to go forward.
“I’ve still had a very good career, but tomorrow night will be the first time I’ve faced Hibs since – and what happened will drive me on.”
While events of the past may give Scotland that little bit extra motivation, he insisted a personal vendetta paled when stacked against the prize on offer to Accies, Alex Neil’s side having picked themselves up off the canvas after missing out on the title itself to squeeze past Falkirk 2-1 on aggregate in the SPFL Premiership play-off semi-final to set up the double-header against Hibs.
He said: “I think it says something for the boys to have come back and won. The heads were down after the Morton game when we knew Dundee had won the title, despite us winning 10-2 that day. But the gaffer has been magic, he rallied us and told us we have a second chance to put things right.”
Accies will go into tomorrow’s match – the return leg takes place at Easter Road on Sunday – buoyed by a run which has seen them lose just once in their last 15 matches, a record which is in stark contrast to that of Terry Butcher’s side, who have managed just one win in 19 games since beating Ross County in early February.
And while Hibs have scored just three goals in ten games, they’ve been shared about at New Douglas Park – former Hibs striker Mikael Antoine-Curier claiming 13, James Keatings 15, with Scotland and Louis Longridge with eight apiece.
Scotland agrees with those who say it is Butcher’s side who go into the next 180 minutes under pressure. He said: “They are the Premiership team and we are the Championship club, so we can go and enjoy ourselves. It’s a big occasion, but all the pressure is on Hibs.
“We’ve been scoring a lot of goals and winning games, while Hibs have been struggling. As such, I don’t think we’ll change our approach. We start every game attacking from the start and if we can get an early goal it will put doubts in their minds.”
However, Scotland admitted he was wary of the fact Hibs have had such difficulty finding the net. He said: “As a striker you know that can change.
“It only takes a couple of seconds to score a goal, do that and confidence changes so we have to keep their confidence low.”
Although he is very much in the veteran category, Scotland insisted that he still has a huge appetite for football and is enjoying his role as lone striker for Accies, using his experience to hold the ball up and bring the three immediately behind him – Longridge, Andreu and Ali Crawford – into the game.
He said: “We’ve played a lot of games, but are a young team. To be fair, they have been magic, trying to do the right things.
“I’ve been away from Scotland a few years so I don’t really know any of the Hibs players – but it’s up to us to put them under pressure. We’ve got a bit of momentum behind us, while they’ve had a bit of a rest, which sometimes means you can be caught sleeping at the start of a game.
“I enjoyed a decent scoring record against Hibs when I was at United, so hopefully I can pick up where I left off.”