ST MIRREN captain Jim Goodwin believes meeting Hearts in the Scottish Communities League Cup final is a tougher proposition than facing Celtic. The Paisley club beat their Parkhead counterparts 3-2 in the semi-final but Goodwin feels Hearts are favourites for Sunday’s showpiece.
The 31-year-old cited the unity within the Tynecastle dressing-room as a key factor in their recent cup success as well as a major obstacle for St Mirren. Last season’s Scottish Cup win was achieved against a backdrop of wage delays, whilst this year’s League Cup progress came amidst unpaid tax bills and further financial uncertainty.
Asked if playing Hearts is harder than Celtic, Goodwin replied: “I think you are right. Every player in that dressing-room deserves a huge amount of credit. Everyone was expecting the dressing-room to fall apart last year, but it didn’t.
“I don’t know if they can use it as a tool to motivate them. I’m fortunate enough to never have been in that position in my career – and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone – but does that bring you closer together? Is it those boys in that dressing-room against the world? That might be their mindset. They won the Scottish Cup last year and now find themselves in another final. I think Hearts will be the favourites going into it, no doubt about it.”
That viewpoint hasn’t prevented Goodwin dreaming of lifting what would be St Mirren’s first-ever League Cup. “I’ve probably only thought about it twice a day since the Celtic game,” he joked. “No, listen, you don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself and end up with egg on your face.
“We don’t believe we have done anything yet. We have put the best team in the country out of the competition and I think we deserved to do that. It wasn’t a lucky game. But we are now up against a really tough Hearts team. They have won one, drawn one and lost one since Gary Locke came in but I think they have picked up. They have a lot of experienced players back in the team.
“So it’s going to be a really difficult game. I think we have all visualised what it would be like, and what it would like around Paisley if we did manage to win it. But we are a hell of a long way away from that.”
A torn calf muscle sustained against St Johnstone last month threatened Goodwin’s participation in the final, however he has made a swift recovery to declare himself 100 per cent fit. “I’m really looking forward to it now,” he continued. “I was a bit concerned when the niggle happened because I had a calf strain last year. At the scan then, I was told ten to 14 days. I came back into training after ten days and ended up being out for seven weeks.
“I was told the same again when I went for a scan this time – a ten to 14 day job. But it’s now been 18 days. I trained on Tuesday and was a little bit cautious at first, but as the session went on I felt more confident. The important thing was the reaction the next day. I got out of bed on Wednesday morning and felt fine.
“Everyone would want to declare themselves fit for the game because it is such a huge occasion. But I spoke to the manager at the start of the week and said the last thing I wanted was to play the final half-fit and be the cause of the team losing. It’s important that everyone who goes on the park for us is 100 per cent. We are not that good a team that we can afford to carry passengers. We need everyone at it.”
St Mirren’s three major trophy wins have all come in the Scottish Cup – in 1926, 1959 and 1987. That means Goodwin would join a unique group of players to lift silverware with the club should they succeed this weekend.
“From a personal point of view, it could be fantastic,” he said. “But collectively as a team, it has been 26 years since the club won something. It would be great if we could create some history of our own.
“What we lack in fanbase and budget, we make up for in team spirit. We have fantastic team spirit. There are no big egos in the dressing-room. Everyone pulls in the same direction. We know the performance we put in against Celtic can’t be a one-off. If we do reproduce that then, whatever the result on Sunday, we can walk away with our heads held high.”