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James Meredith on battle alert for York City
James Meredith has insisted York City’s impressive record against play-off final opponents Luton is no guarantee of success at Wembley a week on Sunday.
The Australian utility man has played in nine of the ten non-League meetings between the two teams and finished on the winning side six times, while only losing once – last season’s 5-0 League defeat at Kenilworth Road when the visitors finished the game with nine men and Michael Ingham’s early red card saw defenders Chris Smith and Greg Young don the goalkeeper gloves.
Meredith starred in the play-off semi-final win against the Hatters two years ago, as well as this season’s last-four clash in the FA Trophy.
But, according to City’s Antipodean ace, prevailing on past big occasions does not mean another win is inevitable and nobody at Bootham Crescent will be under-estimating their May 20 opponents.
He said: “We’ve done the job against Luton a number of times but they are a good team so we can’t rely on that. We have got to approach the game like we always do and not take anything for granted.”
Meredith does believe, however, that Saturday’s FA Trophy final against Newport County could help dissipate any nerves his team-mates may harbour about playing at the world-famous stadium prior to facing Luton in the Blue Square Bet Premier promotion decider eight days later.
Said Meredith: “It could be a good advantage.
“You don’t know what you are going to get from a lot of people who have the anticipation and the big build-up to Wembley. So, having already been there the weekend before gives us a slight edge in terms of what to expect.”
Meredith, a member of the Minstermen who lost to Oxford United in the 2010 play-off final, also reckons the Wembley surface and Luton’s preferred style of football could play to the strengths of Gary Mills’ side.
He added: “I don’t want to speak too soon, like I did before the Oxford game, but I feel we have a team capable of fronting up in League Two next season. I believe, with the way we play, that we are the best team in the league in good conditions and that’s why, against the better sides like Luton and Fleetwood, we really turn up and show what we can do.
“So, hopefully, on a surface like Wembley with the quality, experienced players and hunger and determination we have got in the team, we can go on and possibly do something special.”
Whether Meredith lines up at left-back or in the centre of midfield under the arch remains to be seen.
Recently he has alternated between the two positions, starting at full-back in Monday’s play-off semi-final at Mansfield before moving forward later in the tie.
Despite City’s semi-final clash being in the balance until the 111th minute of the second leg at Field Mill, Meredith revealed he felt it was unlikely penalties would decide matters, adding he had a premonition Matty Blair would grab the winning goal.
“It crossed my mind the game might go to penalties but I didn’t believe it would,” Meredith said. “I thought somebody would get a goal in extra-time and Blairy was the hero of the day again.
“I thought he might be and I’d just said to him I felt he would get one more chance. He smiled at me and, what do you know, the ball popped to Jason Walker, he lifted one straight in the middle of the six-yard box and it was a brilliant header to win the game.”
Having negotiated a bumpy, dry pitch at Field Mill, Meredith is now relishing the opportunity to finish the season on Wembley’s hallowed turf, saying: “The pitch was slightly difficult at Mansfield.
“I don’t think they did a very good job of keeping it nice and neat to play the way we want but we overcame that.
“Now, we are going to Wembley twice in one season, which is a massive achievement.”
SHOOT-OUT pressure will not deter York City’s James Meredith from steppng up to the spot at Wembley.
Both of the Minstermen’s contests under the arch – the FA Trophy final against Newport County on Saturday, followed by the Blue Square Bet Premier play-off final duel with Luton on Sunday, May 20 – will need to be decided on the day.
Meredith told The Press he would not hesitate to step forward for a spot-kick if required.
Prior to Monday’s play-off semi-final, second leg tie at Mansfield, City manager Gary Mills revealed his squad have been practising penalties in preparation for a possible shoot-out.
Said Meredith: “I would definitely volunteer. Penalties, for me, are just about nerves and, if you keep your composure, I think anybody in the game can stick the ball in from 12 yards.”
Meredith is also not fazed about a potential switch in position.
Still a relative newcomer to midfield play, he has been a revelation there since being pitched into the heat of the battle for February’s Trophy quarter-final win at Grimsby.
On his thoughts about considering the switch as a long-term option, the former Shrewsbury and Telford full-back said: “I quite like the holding role.
“The manager put me in there against Mansfield when the game opened up a bit because he knows I can get on the ball and turn.
“When they were missing out the midfield at the start of the game, it does not really utilise my strengths being in that position. Somebody like Pars (Dan Parslow) is better in there to win headers and the second balls but when the game opens up – and against teams like Luton – I think the role suits me a bit more.
“It’s all about experience and learning how to play the position. I don’t know if there’s a future for me there.
“We’ll have to see what next season brings and see what the gaffer decides to do in the Trophy final and play-off final.”