ESMAEL GONCALVES is hoping his Hampden heroics have done enough to keep him in the St Mirren starting line-up for tomorrow's visit of Inverness.

The 21-year-old signed on loan from Portuguese club Rio Ave until the end of the season and was pitched straight into the Buddies starting line-up for Sunday's never-to-be-forgotten Scottish Communities League Cup semi-final victory over Celtic.

The Guinea-Bissau born forward immediately repaid Buddies boss Danny Lennon's faith in him by firing home the Paisley club's opener against the Hoops and produced a stand-out performance largely down Saints left flank.

Now Goncalves, who was capped for Portugal at under-17 level and had been part of Rio Ave's good start to the Portuguese Primeira Liga season, is desperate to stay in Lennon's plans for the SPL crunch with Terry Butcher's high-flying Highlanders.

Goncalves said: "It was a great moment for me when the coach told me I would be starting the game against the Celtic. I have come to St Mirren to play as many games as I can but to start my career with them at Hampden against Celtic was unbelievable.

"Obviously Celtic are a massive club and everyone knows about their great win against Barcelona in the Champions League, but we showed that, on our day, we can match them and that even although no-one gives you a chance, if you believe in yourselves you can achieve anything in football.

"Scoring the opening goal was huge for me and I felt that I did contribute to the team's success. So I am just hoping that I have done enough to stay in the side for Inverness and that I get the opportunity to build from Sunday's game.

"But it has been a great start to my career with the club and to have the final to look forward to against Hearts in fantastic."

There is no doubt that the new Buddie impressed at Hampden. Goncalves took his goal with a composed, outside-of-the-boot finish and showed a decent turn of pace, as well as a change of pace, down the left flank.

Both games between the two sides this term have yielded 2-2 draws. The first coming at St Mirren Park on the opening day of the season and the second on Boxing Day at the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium.

BUT while Goncalves' excitement at a cup final appearance is understandable the Portuguese ace admits his new team must translate their League Cup form into the SPL and start to climb the table.

He said: "It is obvious we can take a lot of confidence from beating Celtic but that will be no use if we do not produce the same quality against Inverness tomorrow. I know that our league position is disappointing and that the target is to try and get into the top six in time for the split.

"If we want to achieve that then we must win our home games. It does not matter what league you play in it is the same for any side. So we have to take care of business against Inverness tomorrow and build on this great win against Celtic."

But Goncalves was full of praise for his new team-mates who clearly made a massive impact on him with their Bhoy bashing.

He said: "The boys have made me feel right at home since I arrived in Scotland last week and they have impressed me very much. I think there is a high level of technical skill and the great thing is that the coach (Danny Lennon) is very encouraging of the passing game.

"I thought we kept the ball very well at Hampden and I think that I will enjoy my time at St Mirren. But I have no doubt I will never forget my debut with them. But we must build on this victory and try to develop a strong momentum as we progress to the final with Hearts."