IT HAS all the makings of a classic Scottish Cup tie and one many will be looking to for a giant-killing act.
Second Division they might be, but Cowdenbeath are out on their own at the top of the table, unbeaten in their last eight matches, while, on the other hand, Pat Fenlon will turn up at Central Park tomorrow still looking for his first win as Hibs boss. Little wonder then that many sense there could well be something of a shock on the cards – an experience Easter Road star Callum Booth doesn’t want to suffer again after his debut in a green-and-white shirt was wrecked by Ayr United.
Like the Blue Brazil, the Somerset Park were then in the Second Division, in third place rather than first, but still they managed to consign Colin Calderwood’s team to a miserable late-night journey home to Edinburgh.
Almost 12 months have elapsed since that disaster, but it still remains fresh in the mind of Scotland Under-21 star Booth who is well aware of the pitfalls facing him and his team-mates in Fife.
But while accepting circumstances today very much mirror those of last January, Hibs again finding life difficult despite the replacement of Calderwood with Irishman Fenlon, Booth insisted that although the Capital outfit will receive little praise should they win a victory could turn their entire season around. He said: “Ayr seems such a long time ago. I remember watching the first game at Easter Road – a no-scoring draw – and Hibs were poor. The replay was even worse. I remember being on the bench, Paul Hanlon picking up a knock with ten minutes to go and the gaffer turned to me.
“It was not the most memorable debut, but it was still good to get on even if it was not a good result in the end. It was an absolute trek home. The journey was made in silence and I didn’t get to my bed until about 2am.
“Tomorrow is going to be tough, Cowdenbeath are flying at the top of the Second Division, they have a few good players and we cannot under-estimate them in any way.
“They are the home team, full of confidence and I am sure they will take the game to us and we’ll have to be at our best to hopefully get the result we need.
“It’s the classic cup tie, the smaller team on a good run and brimming with confidence and the SPL side struggling. They’ve had a good season and we haven’t played to the best of our ability at all.
“But we can turn it around, I am sure of that. This is a break from the league for us and the sort of game which could kick-start our season. We honestly feel we just need a win to get all the boys buzzing again.
“We were struggling last season, got one victory and then made it five in a row. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination, but we have to do what’s needed.
“I don’t want to get too far ahead, but we have a massive game next weekend against Dunfermline so it would be good to get going and go into that game with the momentum of a win behind us. Losing just doesn’t bear thinking about; it has not been discussed. We don’t want any negative thoughts, we have to go there, be positive and confident.”
Central Park will provide a backdrop something less salubrious than most of Fenlon’s players are used to, but Booth, one of the few to have played at the Fife ground – one which he once declared as “the worst place ever” – insisted a small pitch surrounded by a track used for stock car racing would be no excuse for failure.
He said: “It’s not the greatest, but it is 11 against 11 on a football pitch. Perhaps Martin Scott and Leigh Griffiths are the only other guys to have played there, but while the others haven’t I’m sure they’ll have been at similar grounds at some point in their careers. We can’t have any complaints. Once you are on the pitch everything else is blocked out, you go about things as you would in any other match.”
Cowdenbeath will undoubtedly place great reliance on player/boss Colin Cameron. The former Raith Rovers, Hearts, Wolves and Scotland midfielder may now be 39, but he’s still an integral part of the Blue Brazil team.
But Booth revealed he hopes another opponent will prove to be the busiest player on the pitch – his former Hibs Under-19 team-mate goalkeeper Thomas Flynn. Along with Booth and David Wotherspoon, the young Geordie helped the Easter Road kids sweep to a treble of SPL League, SFA Youth Cup and East of Scotland Shield.
Flynn, however, was released by Hibs last summer, but has since made the No 1 jersey at Cowdenbeath his own, boasting six clean sheets during his side’s current unbeaten run.
Booth said: “I’ve heard Thomas has been doing quite well, but hopefully we can test him a few times and knock a few goals past him.
“He had three or four years with Hibs, but didn’t get a first-team game, but he was a good goalkeeper. It’s a difficult position for a youngster. Most goalkeepers have to hang around for a while before they get a chance – just look at Allan McGregor at Rangers.
“Hopefully Thomas can work his way back up – but I just hope he has an off day tomorrow.”
Booth admitted he had such an experience himself in Monday’s derby defeat against Hearts. Restored to the side in the previous match with Inverness Caley following two months out of action due to a combination of loss of form and injury, the 20-year-old committed the sort of gaffe he insisted won’t be repeated tomorrow.
Horribly short with a pass back to Graham Stack, he could only look on in dismay as the goalkeeper tripped Gorgie striker Stephen Elliott before saving his blushes by brilliantly stopping the resultant penalty kick from Ian Black. Ultimately, though, it counted for little as Hearts ran out 3-1 winners, but Booth agreed there would be no room for such errors tomorrow.
He said: “Last Monday’s was a terrible mistake. When Danny Galbraith turned the ball back to me I saw Jamie Hamill running at me and I thought I could play a one-two round him.
“But he closed the ball to Danny off and, I have to admit, I didn’t even look back as I assumed no-one was there. I was delighted Stacky saved the penalty, but I was still gutted to have made such a mistake.
“However, as a young player you will make mistakes, but what you have to do is learn from them. If I do I become a better player; if not then that’s just daft because I won’t improve.
“If I’m faced with the same situation tomorrow there’s no question, the ball will simply get boomed forward.
“The first goal in any game is very important. We don’t want to let Cowdenbeath get a lift from getting it and if we get in front we need to stay there.
“We’ve taken the lead a lot this season and not held on. It’s something we have to change – and soon.”