Kai Fotheringham was on cloud nine as he fulfilled a lifelong ambition — only to be brought crashing back down to earth.
The talented teenager was afforded his maiden Dundee United start last weekend against St Johnstone and confesses it was a “pinch myself” moment in front of his Falkirk-based friends and family.
Aside from the magnitude of that landmark, the appearance came on Legends Day at Tannadice, with the likes of Maurice Malpas, Hamish McAlpine, Davie Dodds and Paul Hegarty presented to a near-10,000 crowd prior to kick-off.
And Fotheringham did himself justice in front of the greats, showing a fearlessness in possession and creating a couple of passable opportunities during a bright showing.
Despite an ultimately galling afternoon — a ludicrous error by goalkeeper Mark Birighitti handing the Saints a 2-1 victory — the academy kid staked a claim to retain his place when United visit Ross County on Saturday.
“When I came through the academy, this was always the plan,” Fotheringham told Courier Sport. “I’ve always had the ambition to play here; to play in front of the Dundee United fans.
“I had a lot of nerves before the game but it’s about using that tension in the right way and channeling it into a positive.
“The gaffer (Liam Fox) told me to just express myself; that I’d get plenty of chances and that I’m good enough to play at this level.
“I had to pinch myself walking out. It was a surreal moment. The timing was special, to play in a game with all the legends here, and with a really good crowd.
“The family were up for a weekend in St Andrews so I was able to get them all tickets for the game, too. They were all here watching.
“It’s just disappointing we couldn’t get the result to go with it.”
Stirling Albion impact
Fotheringham’s impact should perhaps come as no surprise.
His confidence is through the roof following a dazzling first half of the campaign on loan at Stirling Albion, contributing a combined 17 goals and assists as the Binos push for the League Two title.
While the gulf between the fourth tier and Premiership football is consequential, Fotheringham is adamant the stint at Forthbank was exactly what he needed following a maddening, injury-hit season last term.
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💥 𝗙𝗜𝗡𝗜𝗦𝗛 by @kaifotheringham
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“The time at Stirling Albion was something I really needed,” he continued. “I needed that confidence that comes from playing games, scoring and being involved in goals. It was ideal.
“It’s learning the man’s game — using your body, trying to protect the ball and buying fouls.
“You need all that to play at the top level, not just being a good player. So, I’m grateful to Stirling Albion for giving me that opportunity.
“The gaffer (Fox) told me the plan was to come back and play here (in January), because I had done well. I’ve been training well since coming back and, unfortunately for Glenn (Middleton), an injury has kept him out.
“That is what got me in the side and I’d love to keep my place.”
And he would have no fears about being pitched into a relegation six-pointer against County, insisting that belief still abounds in the United dressing room.
“We have never stopped believing,” added Fotheringham. “We didn’t play badly at the weekend. It was a good performance, but we conceded two goals that probably can’t happen at this level.
“Hopefully that changes and things turn around. There are no doubts in our changing room or thoughts of that (relegation) happening.”