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York City's favourites' tag suits strike ace Jason Walker
11:30am Saturday 12th May 2012 in News
YORK City star striker Jason Walker is comfortable with his team’s FA Trophy final favourites’ tag just two years after winning the competition as an underdog.
Gary Mills’ men are the bookmakers’ choice to prevail under the Wembley arch this afternoon, just as Stevenage were in 2010 when Walker’s Barrow team caused an upset.
On that day, Walker scored the spectacular 25-yard winning goal to seal an exciting 2-1 extra-time victory for his home-town team over a Stevenage side that had finished the league campaign as Conference champions.
With 15 places separating City from today’s opponents Newport in the final Blue Square Bet Premier standings, Walker knows the roles will be reversed this time around despite the Welsh club taking four points from the clubs’ two league meetings this season.
On the contrasts between his two Trophy final outings, Walker said: “In 2010, Stevenage were massive favourites but it was a great occasion for Barrow.
“The club had not been to Wembley for 20 years since they had last won it and we did everything properly. We had suits bought for us but, when we saw Stevenage, they were just there expecting to win.
“There was stuff in the programme from their manager saying ‘Make mine a double’ because they had already won the league and that gave us the incentive to go and win. Luckily, for me, I managed to get the winner in extra-time and that has been a massive highlight in my career so far.
“If we can get the win again today, I would be absolutely delighted. We haven’t beaten Newport this season so they will be going into the game full of confidence that they can beat us again but, if we play how we can, like we did against them in the second half at home, I think we have a great chance at Wembley.
“When I got there with Barrow, it was maybe a bit different because we were underdogs and it was always going to be seen as a great achievement if we won it.
“It’s a bit different this time because we are slight favourites even though they have beaten us, but any cup final is an even contest. They will be going out to win it and so will we.”
Walker also fondly recalls the post-match celebrations with Barrow and, while admitting they might have to be toned down should City emerge triumphant from today’s final with next weekend’s play-off final in mind, he insisted the team would still mark the achievement appropriately this evening.
“The celebrations were amazing at Barrow,” he remembered. “We had an open-top bus and there were 25,000 people at the town hall.
“Winning these big games is what you play the game for. We will probably have to be a bit more subdued this time around if we win with the play-off final the following weekend but, if you win at Wembley and lift a trophy, you have got to celebrate and enjoy your night.
“Then, on Sunday morning, we will start preparing for the next game.”
Having been a Trophy final winner and a member of Luton’s losing team in last season’s play-off final, Walker also feels that the latter is rightly perceived as a more tense affair with greater stakes.
The pressure on today’s occasion is not as high, with Walker adding: “The prize at the end of the day in the play-off final is League football, which is absolutely massive, especially for a club like York who have been down in the Conference for eight years and should really be back up there but it’s tough. The Trophy final is also tough but you can enjoy it a bit more.”
Walker goes into today’s match locked in a battle with Matty Blair to be City’s top scorer this season with both having netted 18 times.
A crucial factor in the pair being on level terms is Blair’s return of seven goals in the Trophy, while Walker is yet to hit the target in the tounament.
On that statistic, he added: “If I am selected, it would be a good stadium to get my first goal in this season’s competition but the main thing is we get the win and bring the trophy back. It doesn’t matter to me if we win on Saturday and next Sunday and he gets five and I get none – I wouldn’t give a monkey’s.
“It’s nice to finish top scorer, especially as a striker, but I’ve had my injuries this season and they set me back a bit. Matty’s been on fire and you can’t take that away from him.”
Walker turned provider for Blair to grab the winning goal during Monday’s decisive 1-0 play-off semi-final second leg win at Mansfield but, when asked whether it is time for his team-mate to return the favour, the 5ft 8in forward said: “You could say he owes me one after Mansfield but, then, I suppose he could say he gave me one at Braintree but I missed from three yards.
“He’s always in the right place at the right time and you know, if you put it in the box, he will be there to put it in.”
Despite hundreds of City supporters holding their breath when referee Andy Davies reached for his pocket after Walker had collided with Mansfield ’keeper Alan Marriott deep into stoppage time at Field Mill, the £60,000 summer signing is also vehement he never feared the red card that would have meant he missed both Wembley finals through suspension “I didn’t think the referee was going to send me off – not at all,” he pointed out. “It probably looked worse than it was.
“My family were behind the goal and they thought there was nothing in it. I was nowhere near him but he tried to hurdle me and clipped me.”