TWELVE months ago, Jamie Hand was pitting his wits against Frank Lampard and Claude Makelele in an FA Cup tie.
This year, he’ll have to settle for doing battle with Morton’s Alan Mahood and Chris Millar - and he claims he couldn’t be happier.
The 20-year-old defensive midfielder is in line to make his Livingston debut in tomorrow’s Scottish Cup tie after completing his loan move from Watford earlier this week.
Hand was at the heart of the action when the Hornets travelled to Stamford Bridge for a Cup replay against star-studded Chelsea last January but made few subsequent starts for Ray Lewington’s side.
The move to Livingston is designed to give him some much-needed first-team football and, in return, he’ll add steel to the Lions’ engine room.
The former England youth internationalist can’t wait to get started and admits he’s excited about taking part in tomorrow’s tie - even if it lacks the glamour of last year’s experience.
He said: "Playing against Chelsea was a wonderful experience. We had drawn the original tie 2-2 and I had been left out for that match. The manager liked to attack more at home so there were times when I found myself playing more away from home. However, I still didn’t think I would be involved at Stamford Bridge.
"The day before the game the manager said he was going to make one change to the team and that saw me come in for Paolo Vernazza.
"I was so happy and particularly because it was Chelsea. Gianluca Vialli was the guy who gave me my debut for Watford and obviously he and Ray Wilkins had great Chelsea connections.
"It was a great game to play in. I was up against Frank Lampard and Claude Makelele in central midfield and everywhere you looked they had quality players. I hit the post on the night but eventually their strength told and they beat us by four goals.
"Still, it was a tremendous experience.
"Now I’ve got the chance to play in the Scottish Cup and although I don’t know much about Morton it’s a big game for the club.
"We want to progress in the competition and I’d love to be a part of a team which goes on a good run."
Hand hasn’t played a first-team game since November but played regularly in the earlier part of the season when he impressed during another loan spell at Oxford United.
He does not regard match fitness as a problem but knows nevertheless that he must earn his place in Richard Gough’s team. His loan deal will take him to the end of the season but beyond that he insists he has no set plans.
He has a further year on his contract at Watford but claims he has removed all thoughts of the London club from his head.
He continued: "If I’m selected it will be nice to play as I’ve not had a first-team game since November.
"I’ve spoken to the gaffer and I’ve told him that generally I’m quite fit anyway. It’s not something I have to do a lot of work on.
"I’ve played 12 first-team games and ten reserve matches this season so it’s not a problem. I’m hoping to play every week, not taking anything for granted. I don’t expect the manager to guarantee me a place in the team.
"It’s up to me to take my chance and show him I’m worthy of a place.
"I had been pretty much a regular in the team at Watford but Ray Lewington always wanted more experience in his midfield.
"He would play me for two or three games and then leave me out because I was young but I think it did me more harm than good.
"He didn’t want me to leave but I felt I needed to take this opportunity to play.
"I still have another year on my contract after this season but to be honest I’m not even thinking about that.
"I’m not interested in Watford right now, I’m only concerned with what happens here."
Tomorrow’s match represents Livingston’s first at home in over a month. Their last fixture at Almondvale was Gough’s first in charge, a 1-0 SPL victory over Dundee.
The manager wants the ground to become a fortress and January offers the chance to build some strong foundations with Hibs, Inverness and Hearts all due to visit on league business.
He said: "Although we lost, the players set themselves a good standard at Celtic Park last weekend and I’ll be looking for that to continue tomorrow.
"They kept the Celtic supporters quiet and now they have to go out and do it when they’re favourites tomorrow.
"We’ve not played at home for a while so hopefully that will give us a wee lift.
"I want Almondvale to be a hard place for opposing teams to come and we’ve a run of games coming up where we can hopefully get a few results and build a good reputation for ourselves at home."