Scottish Challenge Cup: TNS defender Steve Saunders' Scottish return

Steve Saunders
Steve Saunders spent the 2015-16 season at Dumbarton
Scottish Challenge Cup: Livingston v The New Saints
Venue: Tony Macaroni Arena Date: Sunday, 12 November Kick-off: 16:05 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC Alba and the BBC Sport website and app. Live on S4C.

Months after swapping Scottish football for the Welsh Premier League, Scotland international Steve Saunders will be back in his homeland this weekend.

Defender Saunders, 25, left Dumbarton to join Welsh champions The New Saints in the summer.

Saints have won all three domestic Welsh trophies for the past two seasons and are now chasing success on another, albeit unusual front - in the Scottish Challenge Cup

The Irn-Bru Cup was expanded to include teams from Wales and Northern Ireland from season 2016-17, following approval from Uefa.

Having beaten Forfar Athletic in the previous round, Saints go to League One leaders Livingston in the quarter-finals on Sunday.

"For me it's exciting to go back to Scotland having played in Scotland all my career up until this season," Saunders told BBC Wales Sport.

Saunders is in a good position to compare the merits of the Scottish and Welsh leagues and has recent experience of facing David Hopkin's Livingston side.

Steve Saunders
Steve Saunders scoring for New Saints against Bala Town in the Welsh Premier League

"It's different down here, where there are a lot of technical players whereas in Scotland it's sometimes a bit hit and rush," Saunders added.

"Livingston will be a very good team and they like to play football, but they do have the physical side to it as well.

"They're on a very good run at the moment as well. I'm really looking forward to the match.

"I played against them three times last year and had a mixed bag with a win, a draw and a defeat and the games were very close.

"Being at Dumbarton last season they were our biggest rivals - it was between us, Alloa Athletic and Livingston for the relegation play-offs.

"We managed to pick our results up in the last couple of days of the season which meant Livingston went down through the play-offs."

Having helped Dumbarton preserve their Scottish Championship status, Saunders turned down the offer of a new contract and left to join the Welsh champions.

He joined Saints with the prospect of regular football and impressed by the ambitions of manager Craig Harrison, the former Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace player.

"He talked to me about the way he wants to play football and his views of what the next two seasons could bring," Saunders added.

"They've won the treble for the last couple of seasons and I wanted to be part of that.

"I've never won a major trophy so I'd like to win some trophies while I'm here and obviously European football was a massive factor as well.

Steve Saunders
Steve Saunders replaced Phil Bardsley to make his Scotland debut at Pittodrie

"I'd played in Europe before, but never in the Champions League."

Saunders had his first taste of Champions League experience in Saints' second qualifying round second leg to defeat by Cypriot side Apoel Nicosia.

But the former Queen's Park, Motherwell and Ross County player had already represented Scotland at senior level.

He won his only cap when he came on as a second half substitute in a 3-0 friendly win over Faroe Islands in Aberdeen in November, 2010.

"I was actually in the Under-21 squad at the time and there were a lot of call-offs and I got a phone call asking would you like to step up," Saunders recalls.

"It was a great experience for me. I trained with them on the Monday night and got on for the last 20 minutes on the Tuesday night.

"It was a really good game for me to come on and I'll always hold that dear to my heart."

Saints, the Dafabet Welsh Premier League's only full-time team, go into Sunday's game against Livingston with a 100% record in their domestic competitions.

Harrison's side are 15 points clear at the top of the table after they secured their 14th successive league win of the season last Saturday at Bangor City.

The Oswestry-based side have been Welsh champions for the last five seasons and Saunders has been delighted with their form as they bid for a 10th title in their history.

"The manager said we'd hopefully win the league again, but I didn't think we'd have such a good start to the season," Saunders said.

"It's been a very good start for us and we've played [second placed] Connah's Quay and [third placed] Bangor in the last two games.

"To come from those two games with six points is what you're looking to do against your biggest rivals."

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