For most of Alan Stubbs’ players, tomorrow will give them their first look at Recreation Park, but as the Hibs team coach pulls up outside the Alloa Athletic ground, it will bring back plenty of happy memories for Callum Booth.
His last visit saw him conjure up a stunning free-kick to win the match for Raith Rovers, a victory which set the Kirkcaldy club up for a memorable Ramsdens Cup final triumph over Rangers the following week.
As a left back for whom scoring is an enjoyable but rare occurrence, Booth admits he doesn’t expect to find himself among the goals this time round – but he’s convinced that with the chances the Easter Road club have been making in recent matches, at least one of his team-mates will be celebrating.
And after Hibs produced a stunning comeback to dump Dumbarton out of the League Cup in midweek, scoring three goals in the final 12 minutes after being two down, Booth insists the Capital side will make the journey to Clackmannanshire for the first time in 12 years full of confidence.
He said: “I don’t think you can win a cup tie in any better fashion. It was an incredible finish to the game. We’d created plenty of chances only to lose two goals to set-plays, but by the final whistle we were all buzzing.
“I think people who haven’t been at our recent games have probably just looked at the final result and made the assumption we’ve not been playing particularly well. But I don’t think that’s the case at all. It’s one win in three but it could easily have been three victories.
“I don’t know what it looked like from the side during the Falkirk match but out there it just seemed to be attack after attack, we created so many chances, and were hit by a sucker punch. I’d like to think at some point during the season we’ll perhaps not be playing too well in a game and manage to sneak a goal like Falkirk did.
“It would also be interesting to see what might happen if we can take a chance early on and have the opposition under pressure right away.”
Although ostensibly a defender, Booth has struck up a potent partnership on the left flank with on-loan winger Matty Kennedy, the pair taking it in turns to go at opposition defences and proving to be the source of so many of the openings Stubbs’ side made against both Falkirk and Dumbarton.
The 23-year-old said: “I like to attack and I’ve been doing that. Matty is a really good player, he’s been man of the match in our last two games. His career at Hibs has started brilliantly but he’s got a good pedigree having come from Everton where he’s been training with superb players.”
Stubbs took his squad to Spartans’ Ainslie Park ground to train on their artificial pitches in preparation for tomorrow but while the head coach has been thorough in that regard, Booth insisted Alloa won’t have much of an advantage.
He said: “I think over the years most of the boys will have played on one. They are becoming more popular, even Kilmarnock and Hamilton in the Premiership have artificial pitches now.
“There’s three or four clubs in the Championship who have them so playing on astro is something we are going to have to get used to. Obviously the teams who have them have a bit of an advantage, they’ll train on them throughout the season and get to know the surface but, to be honest, if there is an advantage it’s only a slight one.”
Booth admits that as he left Recreation Park following Raith’s victory at the end of March he didn’t envisage going back with Hibs as he prepared to return to Easter Road following two seasons on loan, initially with Livingston and then at Stark’s Park.
He said: “If you’d asked me then I would never have thought it would happen with Hibs. But we have to get on with it and I’ll be going back with a good memory of my last game there.
“Raith were maybe in seventh or eighth position at the time, we’d been struggling since Christmas and Alloa were close to us in the league so it was a big game for both clubs as we wanted to avoid being dragged into the relegation play-offs.
“I don’t usually take free-kicks but we got one that day about 25 yards out and I just fancied it. Luckily enough I put it into the top corner, we won and picked up three huge points.
“It was the week before the Ramsdens Cup final against Rangers at Easter Road so it set us up nicely for it and we all know what happened a few days later.”
Having been banished on loan by former boss Pat Fenlon, Booth admits he’s thoroughly enjoying his return to Easter Road even if he’s had to be patient, with the opportunity to impress Stubbs only arising after Lewis Stevenson picked up a two-match ban following his altercation with Hearts winger Jamie Walker during the derby.
He said: “It’s been brilliant to be back and to have had two games at Easter Road this past week. I don’t know what happens now Lewis’ suspension is up but hopefully I’ve given the manager something to think about.”