LEE CLARK is backing Town to make the League I play-offs, but with eight crucial games to go warned: “We have to be prepared to battle through every one.”
The trail to the top six starts at Wycombe Wanderers tomorrow, and while Town’s rivals are in action on Easter Monday, Clark and Co must wait until Tuesday evening to take on Oldham Athletic in a big trans-Pennine Galpharm derby.
From there Town go to Brentford a week tomorrow before hosting Walsall on Tuesday week and Millwall, in front of the Sky cameras, on Friday, April 16.
The final three games are on successive Saturdays against Stockport County (away, April 24), Colchester United (home, May 1) and Exeter City (away, May 8).
With Colchester currently sixth, a place and three points above Town, many believe their visit will be make-or-break, but much can change before then, and Clark insists it’s a case of one game at a time.
“We’ve said so often that the only table that matters is the one after Exeter on May 8, and we can’t think about what’s going on elsewhere,” said the boss.
“All we can influence is our own matches and the aim is to take maximum points from each of them.
“I have total faith in my players, and I believe we can beat any side in this division when we play to our potential, but we have to be totally switched on. Not one of these eight games will be easy.
“Three of the away games (Wycombe, Stockport and Exeter) are against teams fighting for their lives at the bottom and the other (Brentford) against a very capable side.
“And two of the home games are against promotion rivals, one of whom (Millwall) are in unbelievable form at the moment, one (Oldham) is again another of the sides battling for survival and the other (Walsall) are, like Brentford, a club doing very well for the resources they have available.”
The Adams Park assignment against second-bottom Wycombe is top priority, and Clark will be boosted by the availability after a three-match ban of on-loan Liverpool striker Nathan Eccleston.
With Lee Novak and Robbie Simpson out injured, the boss was down to two fit frontmen (20-goal top scorer Jordan Rhodes and Theo Robinson) for last Saturday’s 1-1 home draw with Charlton Athletic.
“It’s a bonus to have Nathan back, because against Charlton, it was difficult to change our attacking options as the players on the bench were defensive minded,” added Clark, who will also have midfielder Anthony Kay back after illness.
Wycombe have agreed to extend defender Luke Oliver’s loan at Bradford City until the end of the season.
The 27-year-old was due to return South in time for tomorrow’s Town clash, having featured in Bradford’s last four games.
Now he’ll remain available to Bradford’s former Wycombe boss Peter Taylor.
Taylor’s successor in the Wanderers hot seat, former QPR, Millwall and Luton Town player Gary Waddock, last week brought Brentford’s Republic of Ireland centre-back Alan Bennett back for a second loan stint of the season.
The 28-year-old played five times in his first spell with the Chairboys, and will hope for a sixth outing against Town after Waddock kept faith with Chris Westwood and Adam Hinshelwood for last Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Colchester.
That was Wycombe’s sixth stalemate in the last eight games, with the other games in the spell bringing a 1-0 home win over Millwall and a 4-3 setback at Stockport.
Much-travelled midfielder Gareth Ainsworth, who numbers Preston North End, Port Vale and QPR among his former clubs, grabbed Wycombe’s controversial last-gasp leveller at Colchester (the home side claimed he converted with his hand).
But the club’s leading scorers are ex-Southend United man Matt Harrold, with 10, and Jon-Paul Pittman, with nine.