DAVID Hopkin insists Livingston will have to win the IRN-BRU Cup the hard way after being drawn to face the ‘champions’ of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales in the competition.
The Lions this afternoon host The New Saints, who sit 15 points clear at the top of the Welsh Premier League after opening the season with 14 consecutive league victories.
It is another formidable challenge for the West Lothian outfit, who were forced to see off Northern Irish title holders Crusaders twice in the last round after being ordered to replay the tie when they fielded the ineligible Alan Lithgow in the first match in Belfast.
Having also faced Celtic’s under-20s in the first round of the tournament, the Almondvale side have not had an easy route to today’s quarter-final.
But Hopkin is thrilled with the way his players have risen to the challenge and has urged them to go further.
He said: “The competition has been good for us and this is a game the boys can go and relax in. They give me everything every week and we can enjoy it.
“We’ve had some good games. We played Celtic’s 20s, we’ve been to Belfast twice and managed to win twice.
“Crusaders are the Northern Irish champions and both games were very difficult. It was a battle but we got through.
“Now, we’re going out to face a TNS who are unbeaten in domestic football this season.
“They’re going to come up here full of confidence but I’m looking forward to it and I’m sure the boys are.
“It’s been the hard route for us but it’s been a great experience for all the players, rather than just playing teams from the same league. I think it’s been a great change in the tournament.”
Hopkin and TNS manager Craig Harrison were team-mates during the Livingston manager’s second spell at Crystal Palace in the early 2000s before Harrison was forced to retire following a horrific leg break.
And the Lions boss knows his old colleague will have the visitors, who began the season playing in the Champions League, well prepared.
He added: “I know Craig well, I played with him at Crystal Palace, and he’s done a great job since he’s been there.
“We know they’ve won the league the last five years in a row and quite comfortably.
“They’ve got a lot of players who have played League One and Two in England and players who have played at a high level up here.
“But we’re looking forward to the challenge and we see it as a chance to get to a cup semi-final.”