Wallace hoping to pull FA Cup flanker as proud father jets in

Murray Wallace
Murray Wallace
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HUDDERSFIELD TOWN and Charlton Athletic may be sick of the sight of each other ahead of their sixth meeting in just 14 months, but it has not stopped one proud man making an 11,500-mile round trip to see the latest instalment.

The person in question being Andrew Wallace, father of Town defender Murray, who has flown in all the way from New Zealand just to see his boy.

Football-wise, it is hardly an auspicious occasion, with Town fans and players excused for letting out a groan or two when Charlton won their FA Cup third-round replay at Oxford in midweek to secure a third and thankfully last seasonal trip to the John Smith’s Stadium today.

But it promises to be a special day at least for Wallace and his old man, although like nearly every other member of the family, Wallace senior does not profess that football is his sporting love – that firmly remains rugby union.

Wallace, enjoying his most rewarding first-team run in a Huddersfield jersey since arriving from Falkirk two years ago, is the one football devotee.

His uncles Murray and Fergus were both no-nonsense Scottish international flankers in their playing days.

But the only ball on show today is a round one and if Town do get past Charlton and land a plum tie in tomorrow’s fifth-round draw, Wallace’s own conversion attempt to make his old man start switching allegiances to football might gather pace.

Wallace, set to line-up on the left-hand side of a defensive central trio for Town this afternoon, told the Yorkshire Post: “My dad is over for this weekend’s game from New Zealand and he flies back sometime next week, so it will be good to see him.

“He’s actually more into rugby, like the rest of my family. My two uncles played for Scotland and my dad used to play as well; just everyone used to play rugby.

“Although when I went to school, I just enjoyed football more, even though I started off in rugby and played mini-rugby and stuff.”

If Town do land a glamour top-flight tie in round five, he quipped: “I’ll need to fly him back over... Although I’m not sure he would, maybe if we get to the final or something! It’s always nice to see family and just before Christmas, I had them all down here (from Scotland) and stuff.”

The trips down to Yorkshire to see Wallace are increasingly being accompanied by weekend visits to see Town, with the central defender having made the breakthrough he has been craving for.

Wallace, who had to wait 11 months for his Town debut, has not looked back since producing an impressive showing at Brighton just before Christmas.

He readily admits he now feels better equipped to handle the cut and thrust of Championship football, with the Scot following the lead of fellow defender Tommy Smith in successfully converting from Under-21 player to first-teamer.

The test will truly arrive when the man who he is helping to cover for in his absence from the back four in redoubtable captain Peter Clarke is ready for a first-team return.

While Wallace admits Clarke has been the first to provide encouragement and pass on tips during his elevation to the first team, he is equally desperate to keep hold of the senior jersey, having waited so long for it.

Wallace said: “It’s the longest run I’ve had in the team and I am delighted to be playing. I had to wait a wee bit, but now I’m in, I feel I am doing well and that I’m progressing, because I am playing regularly.

“Last season, I felt I was ready for it. I played a few games and then maybe on reflection, I wasn’t quite ready for it and up to the pace of it. But this season, I feel really at it and that I can handle it. You need to wait sometimes. It’s a funny game, you can be waiting ages and when your time comes, you can be in and not be out of the side for a while.

“After seeing Tommy do well, that obviously gives you a bit of confidence in seeing players you have been playing with doing really well.

“To be fair to Tommy, he had been doing brilliantly in the Under-21 games and doing really well and he fully deserved to get his chance.”

On the input of Clarke, stepping up his comeback from a knee injury, which has kept him out since November 9, Wallace continued: “He’s always giving me a quick word of advice before games and in training, he is speaking to me all the time, which helps my game a lot.

“I’m glad he’s there to do it. Some players can be a bit bitter if a young player comes in their place, but Skip is a great professional and helps all the defenders. Not just myself.

“Skip is returning to fitness now and as nice as he is to me, I still want to hold onto that shirt!”

The FA Cup provided Wallace with his first taste of victory in a first-team shirt in last February’s fourth-round win under caretaker-manager Mark Lillis at Leicester City.

But just five days later, Town were comprehensively beaten 4-1 at home by eventual winners Wigan in a televised battering in Mark Robins’s first game in charge.

That’s something that still sticks in the craw of players, according to Wallace. He added: “Last season, although Wigan were a good side, we didn’t show ourselves in a good light. If we can play the way we can at our best, we can compete with most people.

“But as much as the fans might have wanted a big tie this time, we want to go as far as we can in the tournament. If we get teams in our league or below, we are happy with that as well.”

leon.wobschall@ypn.co.uk