“I have never been beat in the final of it. So there you are. I played in three as a player [for Rangers, in 1983, 1986, and 1987] and then one as manager of Raith Rovers [in 1994]. I have never lost, I hope Kenny doesn’t let me down,” he joked.
Nicholl could have added, for good measure, that three of those four finals brought success against today’s opponents Celtic. They were the opponents over whom First Division Raith triumphed 18 and a half years ago in the biggest modern day cup final upset in Scottish football, pictured below.
It is often forgotten that in 1994 Celtic were in the midst of their longest run without a league win in their history. Only a fortnight ago did one of their longest winning league sequences end with a draw. Nicholl lives in the present when analysing the Ayrshire club’s chances. And, in acknowledging the two teams’ contrasting form – Kilmarnock have won one of their last eight games while Celtic have won seven of their past eight – he doesn’t pretend to be bursting with confidence.
He doesn’t even read much into Killie’s two wins over Rangers or the 3-0 first half advantage they held over Celtic in October, cancelled out in dramatic fashion.
“It’s a different Celtic, isn’t it? It’s night and day, the Celtic team that played against us [in the 3-3 draw] and the one at the minute. You look back at that. We tore into Ki [Sung-Yeung] and [Beram] Kayal that day but it’s not the same with [Scott] Brown in the middle of the park, or [Joe] Ledley when he goes in there.”
As an underdog it was fear of losing and being embarrassed that drove Nicholl on, he stressed. He has, though, fears which stem from Shiels’ rigid approach when it comes to playing the ball out from the back and attempting to play through teams.
Nicholl says: “You have your philosophies but don’t be embarrassed, don’t put the onus on the player who is going to be the one responsible. Don’t flog a dead horse. We go out to play and it’s great but, if the opposition are doing something about that, which Dundee United did, which Hibs did, which Inverness did when they scored six against us, then...
“What Kenny says to our boys is if they allow you to build up from the back do it, don’t have Cammy Bell getting the ball and everybody up to the halfway line.
“As long as they are attempting to build from the back and the opposition are stopping them then you say ‘right then, if we have to do it, we have to do it’ but it’s not the first thing he wants to see.”