TOM HOPES IT’S THIRD TIME LUCKY

The Football League Paper - - LEAGUE ONE PREVIEWS - By Joshua Richards

TOM Bradshaw, who fired Wal­sall to Wem­b­ley for the first time in their 127-year his­tory, is hop­ing his third visit to the na­tional sta­dium brings smiles not just to the faces of Sad­dlers fans, but his frus­trated fam­ily, too.

Goals from An­thony Forde and Bradshaw in the Johnstone’s Paint Tro­phy area fi­nal first leg with Pre­ston at the start of Jan­uary were fol­lowed up by a goal­less draw this week to end one of the long­est waits in foot­ball.

The Bradshaw fam­ily will be head­ing down to north-west Lon­don en masse to wit­ness Wal­sall’s his­toric day, with Tom’s dad hav­ing booked a 20-seater mini-bus.

Al­le­giances

Much of his fam­ily’s al­le­giances, though, lie with Shrews­bury Town and Bradshaw was in the stands when they lost League Two play-off fi­nals to both Bris­tol Rovers and Gilling­ham within three years.

And, living in fear of in­cur­ring the wrath of his fam­ily for a third time, Bradshaw has vowed to en­sure Wal­sall tri­umph.

“I think we will fill Wem­b­ley just with my fam­ily alone,” smiled the 22-year-old.

“I’ve never played at Wem­b­ley, but it has al­ways been an am­bi­tion of mine since I started. I’ve been twice to watch Shrews­bury at Wem­b­ley, but they lost both times. It was a great ex­pe­ri­ence, but if we lose they might not let me back in the house!

“It’s been a great week. Build­ing up to the game on Tues­day was great, the fans were buzzing. It was per­haps not the most mem­o­rable game, but it was a huge mo­ment for us and you saw how im­por­tant it was to the fans with the cel­e­bra­tions af­ter­wards.”

At­ten­tion turns back to League One to­day, with Wal­sall set to host Gilling­ham at Banks’s Sta­dium – the first of 11 matches un­til they fi­nally grace Wem­b­ley.

Where they will be in the ta­ble come March 22 is im­pos­si­ble to pre­dict, with Dean Smith’s side four points off the play-off places but only six clear of the rel­e­ga­tion zone ahead of the week­end’s ac­tion.

But Bradshaw, with 15 goals this term, in­sists his team are look­ing up rather than over their shoul­ders.

“The JPT has been great for us and the fans, but we need to start build­ing some con­sis­tency in the league and look­ing to­wards the play-offs,” he added.

“We’ve got the play­ers to do it. I can’t see the JPT fi­nal dis­tract­ing us. We’ve had this build-up and talk about ‘will they get to Wem­b­ley?’ for the past cou­ple of rounds.

“It’s a huge day, but the league is just as im­por­tant. It’s where we play the ma­jor­ity of our foot­ball through­out the sea­son, of course, and there are eight or nine weeks be­tween now and the fi­nal.

“We’re at home to Gilling­ham so we’ve got to be look­ing to take all three points.We got a good re­sult at Colch­ester in our last league game, and we’ve got to look at putting a run to­gether, par­tic­u­larly at home.”

Pri­or­ity

The Gills are just one place and two points be­hind Wal­sall go­ing into this evening’s con­test and look set to wel­come back in-form striker John Mar­quis, who was in­el­i­gi­ble for their Johnstone’s Paint Tro­phy area fi­nal de­feat to Bris­tol City.

Mid­field­ers Amine Lin­ganzi and Aaron Mor­ris both re­main side­lined, though, with ham­string in­juries, giv­ing Gilling­ham’s four­man care­taker-man­age­ment think-tank some­thing to chew on.

Since Peter Tay­lor left Pri­est­field Sta­dium on New Year’s Eve, Gilling­ham have taken six points from four league games.

But Andy Hessen­thaler, one quar­ter of the care­taker con­tin­gent, has told his team not to for­get their pri­or­ity is to stay in the di­vi­sion.

“It is still on and we are still in a fight.We have played an ex­tra game to other teams, too,” he said.

“We have got to start look­ing up rather than down, but we need to be cau­tious.We have had two nice wins but things can change and we know just how quickly.

“The Johnstone’s Paint Tro­phy has been a dis­trac­tion be­cause we have a bit of mo­men­tum in the league. Wal­sall, for me, is more ex­cit­ing be­cause of that mo­men­tum.

“We just have to go into ev­ery game with the same work ethic and de­sire to be bet­ter than the op­po­si­tion. If we keep do­ing that and get­ting the best out of each in­di­vid­ual, then we will be fine.”

PIC­TURE: Pin­na­cle

PARTY TIME: Ju­bi­lant Wal­sall crack open the bub­bly af­ter reach­ing Wem­b­ley

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