The Football League Paper - - LEAGUE ONE PLAY-OFF FINAL - By Chris Dunlavy

BRAD­FORD star James Mered­ith has re­vealed that the Ban­tams had to make the League Two play-off fi­nal – or face the prospect of train­ing un­til June!

Hav­ing cap­tured the na­tion’s hearts with a fairy­tale run to the League Cup fi­nal, a post-Wem­b­ley slump saw Brad­ford slide down the ta­ble.

By mid-March they had fallen ten points adrift of the top seven and the play-offs looked a for­lorn hope.

That was un­til man­ager Phil Parkinson called his squad to­gether and warned them it was pro­mo­tion or else.

Now – af­ter a stun­ning run of one de­feat in their last ten – the York­shire out­fit are pre­par­ing to face Northamp­ton at Wem­b­ley af­ter beat­ing Bur­ton 5-4 on ag­gre­gate in the play-off semi­fi­nals.

“We lost 4-1 to Ex­eter with about ten games re­main­ing and the gaffer called us all in for a pretty se­ri­ous meet­ing,” re­calls Mered­ith.

“He ba­si­cally said ‘There’s enough qual­ity here to get au­to­matic pro­mo­tion and def­i­nitely enough to make the play-off fi­nal.

“Any­thing else is an un­der­achieve­ment so we’ll be train­ing up to the end of the play-offs whether you make it or not’.

“That was pretty much the rocket ev­ery­one needed. We knew we were un­der­achiev­ing.

“We were let­ting down the fans who had cheered us to Wem­b­ley, and ev­ery­one at the club. We felt an obli­ga­tion to get to the play-off fi­nal and that kicked us on.

“A lot of peo­ple thought we were just go­ing to see out the sea­son and let it run away from us. But we man­aged to get our­selves back in the mix and prove ev­ery­one wrong.”

Though Mered­ith missed the League Cup fi­nal with glan­du­lar fever, the play-off fi­nal will mark a re­mark­able fourth Wem­b­ley ap­pear­ance in as many years for the Aussie left-back.

He lost the Con­fer­ence play-off fi­nal with York in 2010, but stayed with the Min­ster­men to com­plete an FA Tro­phy and pro­mo­tion dou­ble in 2011-12.

Yet it might never have been af­ter the young Mered­ith was turned away by EV­ERY club in the Football League.

“I got re­leased from Derby in 2007 af­ter a sea­son of not play­ing,” says the 25-year-old.

“I called ev­ery club in the Football League to see if they’d take me on trial, and I didn’t get a sin­gle re­sponse, not one.

“Af­ter three months with­out a club, I did think about go­ing home to Aus­tralia. I thought ‘I’m not re­ally mov­ing for­ward, I’m stag­nant – what am I gain­ing by be­ing here?’

“But then AFC Telford called to say they’d give me a go. I went, got to the Con­fer­ence North play-off fi­nal, then it was on to York for three years be­fore Brad­ford. It’s been the school of hard knocks re­ally.

“Not ev­ery player gets to make it the pretty way. I was scraping by fi­nan­cially and it was very dif­fi­cult at times. There’ve been no fancy restau­rants or fast cars, put it that way.

“But it’s just the way I’m built. You don’t al­ways get things handed to you. You have to work for them and I think that’s the best way be­cause you ap­pre­ci­ate it more.”

So with all his big-match ex­pe­ri­ence, does Mered­ith have ad­vice to his team-mates on han­dling the pres­sure?

“I al­ways say the same two things,” he says. “One is don’t let the oc­ca­sion over­whelm you. Play your nor­mal game.

“The other is don’t get com­pla­cent. Don’t get wrapped up in the me­dia stuff and don’t think you’re some­thing spe­cial just be­cause you’re at Wem­b­ley. You still have to work hard.”

WEM­B­LEY REG­U­LAR: Brad­ford left-back James Mered­ith is back un­der the Arch for a fourth time. Inset: Ban­tams boss Phil Parkinson

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.