The Football League Paper - - FRONT PAGE - By John Lyons

TWO of the Cham­pi­onship’s big guns col­lided at the KC Sta­dium – and it was league lead­ers Hull City still stand­ing at the fin­ish.

Steve Bruce’s Tigers roared to a 3-0 vic­tory against Mid­dles­brough with goals from Mo­hamed Di­ame, Sam Clu­cas and Tom Hud­dle­stone.

Hull lead the way on goal dif­fer­ence from Brighton, who beat MK Dons 2-1, while Burn­ley are third af­ter a 0-0 draw at Wolves. Boro lie fourth, while Derby are fifth af­ter their derby de­feat at Not­ting­ham For­est on Fri­day night.

Birm­ing­ham lie sixth af­ter a 5-2 romp at Ful­ham, which is ex­pected to bring the cur­tain down on Kit Sy­mons’ reign as Whites boss.

In the FA Cup, Bury thrashed 2013 win­ners Wi­gan 4-0, while Ley­ton Ori­ent (6-1 v Staines) and Colch­ester United (6-2 v Weald­stone) en­joyed thump­ing vic­to­ries.

IF SAM Clu­cas earns pro­mo­tion with Hull City this sea­son it will cap an incredible rise through English foot­ball.

The story of Jamie Vardy, from Stock­bridge Park Steels to a Pre­mier League star, is un­doubt­edly fas­ci­nat­ing. But the England striker’s tra­jec­tory could be equalled should Steve Bruce’s £1.3m sum­mer sign­ing con­tinue his al­most-weekly im­prove­ment.

Just six years ago he was lac­ing up his boots for tiny Net­tle­ham, who play in the Lin­colnshire Se­nior League.

Left winger Clu­cas, 25, told The FLP:“The last few years I have gone up a level ev­ery sea­son – I’ve gone from the Con­fer­ence to League Two, League Two to League One and in the sum­mer from League One to the Cham­pi­onship – I reckon it’s writ­ten in the stars that it could be the Pre­mier League next sea­son!

“I think play­ing in the Lin­colnshire League as a teenager gave me a grounding. If you get life put on a plate for you early on, you’re get­ting big money and nice things, then you take your foot off the gas and think you’ve made it.

“I had to drive to games and train­ing and you wouldn’t even ask about ex­penses – it cost me a bit in the end! But that’s a part of my jour­ney, I’ve come a long way and I’m proud of that.”

His ca­reer was kick-started by Glenn Hod­dle, who days be­fore his 20th birth­day watched him trial for his academy.The England leg­end saw some­thing in him among 2,000 oth­ers. He took him to Spain where he played for Jerez In­dus­trial.

A year later, he got his chance in the English pro game. But it wasn’t ex­actly the start of the big climb. Sign­ing for Here­ford United, the club were crum­bling. They were rel­e­gated out of the League and Clu­cas was the fall guy, hounded on so­cial me­dia.

“I got mes­sages on twit­ter from some Here­ford fans say­ing I was the worst player to ever play for that club and that I should quit – 18 months later I won their player of the year and they’re ask­ing me not to leave! Foot­ball changes re­ally quickly,” he said.

“Here­ford re­ally helped me. Mans­field were also fan­tas­tic when I got the move and Chester­field re­ally helped set me on my way. I’m grate­ful to ev­ery­one.

“But the Glenn Hod­dle academy was al­ways the big one. I had to move away to Spain and I would be away from my fam­ily for a long, long time. But all I wanted to do was be a foot­baller.

“If that didn’t work out it was time to try some­thing else. I got lucky. Out of 2,000 tri­al­ists he picked me and 20 oth­ers to take to Spain. It was a life-chang­ing mo­ment.”

Now it’s on­wards and up­wards with Hull.

“I ac­tu­ally feel like I have been here for years, not months. I went to see Hull in the 2014 FA Cup fi­nal against Arse­nal. I was in­vited af­ter win­ning the Player of the Round from my time at Mans­field. I got the VIP treat­ment, it was an amaz­ing day,” he added.

“I re­mem­ber think­ing to my­self ‘I would love to be play­ing for one of those teams out there’ and a year later the call came!”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

TAKE THE AC­CLAIM: Hull City’s Mo­hamed Di­ame cel­e­brates the open­ing goal with Harry Maguire – match re­port, see pages 10-11

HAPPY DAYS: Sam Clu­cas cel­e­brates scor­ing Hull’s sec­ond goal in the 2-0 mid­week win against Brent­ford that put them top and, in­set, play­ing for Here­ford

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