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York City striker Jason Walker pays tribute to manager Gary Mills
JASON WALKER feels better than ever as a player – and has revealed that is all down to York City boss Gary Mills.
Walker was one of the Wembley heroes as the Minstermen gained promotion to the Football League with Sunday’s 2-1 play-off final win over his former club, Luton.
He also played in the FA Trophy final triumph against Newport under the arch, and, while he scored in neither game, he finished the regular season as City’s top goal-getter in the league and with 18 in total.
It all completes a wonderful first year at Bootham Crescent for the 28-year-old and more than makes up for play-off agony as a Luton player 12 months ago, when he was denied a late winner by the woodwork and then missed a penalty in the Hatters’ shoot-out loss.
Asked whether his subsequent move north has proven to be the right decision, he said: “I didn’t settle at Luton. I had a chat with the manager here and I believed in what he was saying and I believed he believed in me. That was one of the main reasons why I came here and, now we’ve gone up, you could say I made the right choice.”
On Mills, who played under legendary Nottingham Forest boss Brian Clough in a European Cup-winning team, Walker added: “He’s just a winner, a pure born winner. I don’t know where it stems from. Maybe there’s a bit of Cloughie there.
“He drills it into you that you’re the best on the day, the best on the pitch, the best he’s ever worked with. I believe in myself after that more than I ever have done.
“I let him down a bit when I got injured and when I wasn’t playing well, but this (Sunday’s play-off triumph) was for him, and for the assistant, the chairman, and everyone involved at the club.
“It’s been a great week, with the stadium news, the FA Trophy and now this.”
Walker’s every touch in the play-off final was booed by Luton’s fans, but Walker held no grudges, and revealed he still had many good mates at Kenilworth Road, not least goalkeeper Mark Tyler, who denied him a Wembley goal when tipping his goalbound header over the bar.
“They did great things for my career, taking me from Barrow, but I just didn’t settle,” he explained.
“I could have been a Luton hero but I ended up being the villain.
“But they’re fantastic fans and they just want to be in the Football League – they’re a massive club. They feel they deserve to be there. I expected the stick.”
Of the final whistle celebrations, he added: “I didn’t want to rub it in their faces really. They’re good friends. I gave them a hug or whatever. It’s just one of those things.”
As for Tyler’s save, he said: “I did think it was in. It was a great save and I gave him a high five for saving it. He’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. He asked before the game if my family were all right and if my little boy was all right.
“He then said at the end, ‘Go and show them what you can do in League Two,’ and for someone to say that after he’s just lost a final is absolutely brilliant.”
Walker is confident both he and the club can cut the mustard back in the Football League after eight years in the Conference.
“With the teams that go up, Stevenage are a great example – going up to League One and then with the play-offs to get into the Championship. Oxford and Crawley – they’ve all done well.
“The chairman will back the manager and we can go into League next season full of confidence.”