Play-off hopefuls Hull, Barnsley and Bradford aiming to book Wembley return

Hull manager Steve Bruce. Picture: Tony Johnson
Hull manager Steve Bruce. Picture: Tony Johnson
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HAVING already tasted the pride and honour of leading their respective clubs out at Wembley, a trio of Yorkshire managers will this weekend look to put that experience to good use in the play-offs.

Steve Bruce takes his Hull City side to Derby County this lunchtime looking to take a giant step towards the Premier League, while later on Paul Heckingbottom’s Barnsley host Walsall in League One.

Bradford manager Phil Parkinson Picture by Simon Hulme

Bradford manager Phil Parkinson Picture by Simon Hulme

Bradford City, who reached Wembley twice in 2013 under Phil Parkinson, are at home to Millwall tomorrow lunch-time.

All three managers are looking to plot a path back to the national stadium and keep alive hopes of ending 2015-16 on the ultimate high of clinching promotion.

Bruce heads to the East Midlands looking to repeat his play-off success of 2002, when, as Birmingham City manager, he led the club into the Premier League.

“When we do perform, we are a match for anyone in this division,” the Tigers manager told The Yorkshire Post.

Barnsley's caretaker mananger Paul Heckingbottom.

Barnsley's caretaker mananger Paul Heckingbottom.

“I know that and we performed last week (in beating Rotherham United 5-1 on the final day). Let’s be fair, it could have been 10 against a team that had been on a high. If we perform, we will be okay.

“Let’s not take it for granted. It is a wonderful opportunity to go and play on the greatest stage of all.”

Asked if the play-offs were the best way to go up considering the emotion that accompanies winning a one-off decider, Bruce said: “No, I would rather be sat on my backside in Portugal sipping a tin of lager!

“But if you do it at Wembley then of course it is a special day. For a club like ours, it could be the fourth time in eight years we have been to Wembley. That’s unheard of for this club.

“What we want at Derby is a win.

“It is always difficult to try and set a team up to say you will be happy with a draw.

“When I was at Birmingham, Millwall equalised in the last minute of the semi-final to get a draw in what was our home game.

“The way they were celebrating, they thought the job was done. But we went down to the Den and won 1-0.

“So, you just want any sort of advantage (from the first leg). We have got to go and look to win the game. We know we are capable.”

Bruce’s two visits to Wembley in the 2014 FA Cup semi-finals and final came a year after Parkinson had also enjoyed a couple of trips at the helm of Bradford, in the League Cup final and then the League Two play-off final.

“It is massive,” said Parkinson, whose City side clinched promotion with a 3-0 triumph over Northampton Town three years ago.

“You can’t play it down. In my era of players, it was even bigger. Playing at Wembley was the pinnacle in anyone’s career.

“But when you actually go there, walk in the dressing rooms and realise the history of the place – I know it is a new build, but it is on the same venue – then you realise how great it is.

“We don’t need any more incentives because there is a lot at stake.

“But there is a great prize ahead.”

Paul Heckingbottom’s own taste of leading Barnsley out at the national stadium came just last month in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.

The Reds beat Oxford United 3-2 to open up the possibility of claiming a notable double for the south Yorkshire club.

Walsall travel to Oakwell for a 5.30pm kick-off looking to dent the hosts’ impressive recent record, the last 16 games having yielded 32 points and a late dash up the table that culminated in last Sunday’s 4-1 victory at champions Wigan Athletic.

Included in that run was a 3-1 victory against the Saddlers in early March, but Heckingbottom is quick to stress that any results in the regular season count for little now.

“Any games since the turn of the year mean nothing now,” said the Reds’ caretaker head coach. “But the players do know if they execute the game plan, they will be tough to beat.

“We have tried to acclimatise to this type of tension and get used to playing in big games, so no-one freezes and everyone can perform.

“Just look at last Sunday. It was our cup final and we had to go and deliver.”