WHEN Lochee United and Auchinleck Talbot lock horns in the Macron Scottish Junior Cup semi-finals this afternoon it could turn out to be something of a deja vu experience.

The sides met at the same stage last April, and speaking after the Tayside outfit succumbed to a 2-0 defeat (2-1 on aggregate), Lochee boss George Shields said: “We just never turned up on the day and more the pity because most of my players will never come so close again to playing in a Junior Cup final.”

But press the fast forward button and Shields and 10 of his playing squad from last time out have made it through to the cup’s last-four stage for a second successive season.

However, whether their chances can be considered better than last year is debatable as they are up against almost the same Talbot team who dealt them a knockout blow en-route to lifting the Holy Grail silverware for a record 12th time, with only midfielder Clark Thomson having left.

Lochee, however, are much improved and as well as taking the West Region scalps of Dalry Thistle, Gartcairn, Carluke Roves, Craigmark and Troon during their cup run, had remained unbeaten in all East Region games up until last weekend when going down 12-11 on penalty kicks in a minor cup tie away to Hermes.

But so too are an all-conquering Auchinleck whose sights are set on a quadruple trophy haul. The team last tasted defeat - the 4-0 Scottish Cup beating by Hearts apart - six months ago when losing 1-0 at home to Glenafton in a Premiership contest.

Defensive cornerstone Ross Harvey, believes the current Beechwood Park dressing room is better equipped and stronger than before.

“Teams nowadays are not just about the 11 players out on the park and there’s no denying we have an all-round strength in depth to our squad that gives us a substitutes’ bench that could walk into any team in the Juniors.

“And knowing the quality of players sitting at the side is making the first picks play out of our skins for fear of being replaced by someone who might hold on to the jersey. The added pressure to perform every time you play for Talbot is what makes this club extra special and I don’t think anyone would have it any other way.”

The one time Rangers Youth centre-back says he is looking forward to a return visit to up to Thomson Park.

“Scoring a goal left me with happy memories of last season’s game up there and I’ll never forget the reaction on the faces of our supporters who had travelled up in numbers despite us losing the Beechwood Park first leg 1-0. Their backing for us was nothing short of fantastic and made it seem like a home game so hopefully we can give them something to smile about on the journey back down to Ayrshire.

“The tie is reversed this time with our first meeting taking place at Lochee, but I our approach will not change all that much and we’ll look to try and win the game up there.”

The 30-year-old is rated doubtful for the crunch cup contest after picking up a hamstring strain.

Bot boss Tommy Sloan said: “It’s a concern to have come through almost the entire season without any injury problems of any note only to have a spate of them going into one of the most important games we’ll play this season. Ross is confident of being passed fit but I’ll wait until an assessment on his condition is made up at Lochee before kick-off.

“A bigger headache is knocks picked up by Graham Wilson and Mark Shankland that prevented them training in midweek and again the plan is to wait and see how they are feeling.

“Lochee have good players in their team and are used to winning games so we are expecting a tough time up there and cannot expect to match up to them with half fit players.

“Junior Cup semi-finals are always great occasions, if nervy at times, and I’m just glad to be in it.”