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WEMBLEY-BOUND former York City midfielder Jonathan Smith believes the world-famous stadium will inspire rather than interfere with his old club’s push for promotion.
Smith is expected to run out under the arch for Swindon Town in tomorrow’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final against Chesterfield after a successful season for the Robins that has seen him become one of the mainstays of Paolo Di Canio’s League Two title-challenging team.
Confessing his excitement at that prospect, Smith also admitted he was “buzzing” after learning that the club he left behind in the summer will meet Newport in the FA Trophy final at the home of English football on May 12.
The Preston-born 25-year-old added that any concerns that reaching Wembley might distract from the primary objective of gaining promotion should be allayed by Swindon’s form since defeating Barnet in the JPT semi-finals back on February 7.
Following that 2-1 aggregate victory, the Wiltshire side have won eight of their ten fixtures.
Smith’s argument that had City been knocked out of the Trophy at Luton last weekend it could have been more detrimental to the team’s play-off bid, meanwhile, is borne out by the Hatters’ 3-0 defeat at another of his old clubs – Forest Green – on Tuesday night.
On the uplifting effect of reaching a Wembley final, Smith said: “I think it gives everyone an incentive to raise their game because they are thinking that, if they do well, they can play in a cup final at Wembley.
“It pushes you on and everybody has been buzzing with excitement at Swindon. I think the same will happen at York, especially today in the first league game after getting to Wembley.
“The fans and lads will still be buzzing whereas, if the club had lost, everybody would be on a bit of a downer. I was buzzing for the lads myself when I heard the result from Luton.
“I still keep in touch with people like Scott Kerr and Michael Ingham and sent them good luck texts before the semi-final because I knew it was a tough draw. They deserve to be in the final because they’ve had some difficult games along the way like going to Grimsby and Salisbury when they were doing well.”
For Smith, tomorrow’s match represents a welcome second opportunity to play at Wembley after he failed to make the squad for Morecambe’s historic 2007 Conference play-off final win.
“I’ve never played there before and you don’t get too many opportunities to do so in your career,” he pointed out. “I went there with Morecambe when I was 17.
“I was with the squad and it was the first competitive game to be played at the new stadium so it was a big match. I was delighted for the lads but disappointed not to be involved on the day as I had played a few first team games by then. But now, I’m going there with a good chance of playing.”
Chesterfield currently operate a division higher than Swindon in the Football League but are battling against relegation while their opponents sat seven points clear at the top of their table going into today’s programme of fixtures.
As a consequence, Swindon, who are also expected to be supported by more fans, have been made favourites to win tomorrow’s final.
Smith is confident without being complacent, saying: “It’s a final and it’s all about who turns up on the day but, if we play like we have been doing, there’s no reason why we can’t win it. I’m really excited.
“More than 30,000 tickets have been sold in Swindon. There’s a lot of interest in the team at the moment with us being top of the table as well.
“My dad comes to all my games, so he will be there with quite a lot of other family members as well.”
Di Canio’s passionate management style has been as much a feature of Swindon’s success this season as performances on the pitch and Smith – one of the former West Ham striker’s first signings at the County Ground – revealed he has felt the full force of the Italian’s fiery temper on numerous occasions.
“I’ve been on the receiving end of his tantrums many a time and more than most,” Smith admitted. “People tell me he’s hard on me because he’s seen something in me and wants me to improve and I know he must like me because I play a lot of games.
“But, if he thinks something needs saying, he will tell you straight away and doesn’t hold back.”
Smith also suggested that it should not be long before his previous boss Gary Mills is pitting his managerial skills at an elevated standard.
Comparing Mills with Di Canio, Smith said: “Both managers’ knowledge of the game is really good and Paolo works non-stop 24 hours a day. He’s done well and deserves to do well because of the hard work he puts in.
“They are both top quality managers and it would not surprise me to see Gary Mills managing at a high level. I rate him highly, especially his man-management skills.
“I really enjoyed my time at York and it was a big challenge for me to move to Swindon but I had to take my chance to prove myself at this level. I’ve given it my best shot, I’m as fit as I can be and I’ve played most of the games.”
Smith added that fitness is a reason why he is not taken aback by left-back James Meredith’s impressive displays in his former midfield berth for the Minstermen.
“It’s not surprised me that he’s been doing well in midfield,” Smith said of his old team-mate.
“In the Conference and League Two, if you have good energy levels, work hard, close people down and are fit, you can be effective in that position.”
Blair dares to gatecrash the top gong hunt
The trio were level on 28 points going into this afternoon’s match against Southport after Blair picked up a point towards the contest as our third-highest rated player at Luton.
Blair, meanwhile, received the two bonus points on offer for The Press Player of the Month competition after receiving the most man-of-the-match votes from visitors to our website.
To be in with a chance of presenting the March Player of the Month with his prize at a City home game, vote for your man of the match from today’s home clash against Southport or Tuesday’s trip to Bath via the related link above.
The Press Player of the Year standings: Blair 28 points, Kerr 28, Walker 28, Smith 23, Meredith 21, Ingham 19, McLaughlin 18, Fyfield 16, Chambers 14, Parslow 11, McGurk 10, Oyebanjo 10, Moké 9, Challinor 7, Boucaud 5, Gibson 4, Pilkington 4, Reed 4, Doig 3, Blinkhorn 2, Henderson 1.
March Player of the Month standings: Kerr 8, Parslow 7, Meredith 6, Blair 5, Oyebanjo 4, Smith 3, Fyfield 2, Pilkington 2, Reed 2, Ingham 1.
Goals: Blair 16, Walker 16, Reed 11, McLaughlin 10, Chambers 9, Smith 4, Challinor 3, Fyfield 3, Blinkhorn 2, Moké 2, Pilkington 2, Ashikodi 1, Boucaud 1, Henderson 1, Kerr 1, McGurk 1, Meredith 1, own goal 1, Oyebanjo 1.
Assists: McLaughlin 13, Chambers 11, Blair 9, Meredith 7, Moké 7, Pilkington 7, Reed 7, Walker 6, Challinor 4, Kerr 4, Oyebanjo 3, Potts 2, Fyfield 1, Henderson 1, McGurk 1, Parslow 1, Smith 1.
Bad boys: Smith 10 yellow cards; McGurk 8 yellow; Challinor 7 yellow; Kerr 6 yellow; Walker 1 red, 4 yellow; Blair, Meredith, Reed all 5 yellow; Boucaud 1 red, 3 yellow; McLaughlin, Fyfield both 4 yellow; Parslow 3 yellow; Ashikodi, Moké, Oyebanjo all 2 yellow; Brown 1 red; Chambers, Ingham, Potts all 1 yellow.