FI­NAL FLOUR­ISH

Brad­ford City striker Billy Clarke on the League One play-off fi­nal

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE: -

STRIKER Billy Clarke in­sists the word ‘re­venge’ won’t fea­ture heav­ily as Brad­ford City pre­pare to take on Mill­wall at Wem­b­ley next Satur­day.

The Ban­tams’ dreams of reach­ing the Cham­pi­onship a year ago were un­done by the Lions in the play-off semi-fi­nals. Mill­wall won 3-1 at Val­ley Pa­rade and the re­turn down south ended 1-1, en­sur­ing the Lions headed to Wem­b­ley.

But Clarke be­lieves the ‘re­venge’ la­bel isn’t one that ap­plies to next week­end’s win­ner-takes-all clash at the home of foot­ball.

The 29-year-old said: “That’s how the build-up will be played out, with peo­ple talk­ing about re­venge on our side, but we are a com­pletely dif­fer­ent team to last year. We’ve had a change of man­ager, style and per­son­nel. There are only three or four left from that team. We feel we have a pos­si­bly bet­ter team and it’s go­ing to be another tight game with what’s rid­ing on it.

“It al­ways is when we play them, and two 1-1 draws this sea­son be­tween us sug­gest that.”

The change in man­ager Clarke refers to was Brad­ford leg­end Stu­art McCall re­turn­ing to the club a year ago. He took over the hot­seat va­cated by Phil Parkin­son, who guided Bolton to League One pro­mo­tion this term be­hind run­away cham­pi­ons Sh­effield United.

Ir­ish­man Clarke is full of praise for the job the for­mer Ever­ton and Rangers mid­fielder has done this sea­son.

“Him and Kenny (Black – as­sis­tant man­ager) have been bril­liant from when they first came in,” said Clarke. “There were only eight play­ers left, so there was a big job to do, but their re­cruit­ment has worked re­ally well.

“The gaffer is quite a calm sort of guy, he’s re­laxed when we’re train­ing, but he’s se­ri­ous when he needs to be. The way he is has rubbed off on us. We’re re­laxed when we play.” McCall’s man­ner could be a plus for the Ban­tams as they ap­proach their big­gest match of the sea­son. For­mer Ip­swich, Black­pool and Craw­ley front­man Clarke ad­mit­ted: “There will be nerves. We will be play­ing in front of 80,000 fans and there’s so much rid­ing on it. “I was on the bench for Black­pool when we beat Cardiff (3-2 in the Cham­pi­onship play-off fi­nal in 2010), but didn’t get on.

a tremen­dous sta­dium and there’ll be a great at­mos­phere. Both teams will bring a huge fol­low­ing and I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to it.

“Form goes out of the win­dow and it’s who turns up on the day.”

What cranks up the pres­sure even more is that the Cham­pi­onship is such an at­trac­tive propo­si­tion. With the likes of Sun­der­land and Mid­dles­brough drop­ping down from the Pre­mier League and a bunch of heavy­weights al­ready in it – like As­ton Villa, Leeds and Nor­wich – it is a mouth-wa­ter­ing prospect for those clubs press­ing their noses against the win­dow.

“It’s a great divi­sion,” said Clarke. “I read that it’s the fourth most watched in Europe and it’s where we want to be. A club the size of Brad­ford has been off that stage for far too long. Now we’re as close as we can be.”

The ver­sa­tile Clarke will turn 30 in De­cem­ber, but he’s still got the hunger and de­sire to play as high as he pos­si­bly can.

It was cruel luck that he rup­tured his cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment in the pre-sea­son ahead of BlackIt’s pool’s Pre­mier League de­but in 2010-11 and missed the whole sea­son.

Mas­sive

Yet he’s pre­vi­ously shown he’s good enough for the Cham­pi­onship and wants to prove he can still cut it in the sec­ond tier, if Brad­ford see off Mill­wall.

“It would be mas­sive for me to get back to the Cham­pi­onship,” he said. “I feel I have been good enough to play in it, but I haven’t had the chance, or things haven’t worked out. I def­i­nitely feel I’m good enough.

“Things have hap­pened to me a few times. I’ve been in good form and then seem to have got in­jured. It’s frus­trat­ing, but it’s part and par­cel of what we do.”

Per­haps Clarke is due a bit of luck at Wem­b­ley next Satur­day.

If he does get it, Brad­ford won’t be com­plain­ing.

RE­LAXED: Man­ager Stu­art McCall

PICTURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

SEALED WITH A KISS: Billy Clarke cel­e­brates scor­ing for Brad­ford City Insets: Mill­wall’s Steve Mori­son scores against Brad­ford in last sea­son’s play-off semi-fi­nal, top, and Clarke play­ing for Black­pool, bot­tom

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