LEE CLARK might have a new nickname, but he’ll be the same old boss as Town begin their build-up to the League I play-off final.
As the dust settled on a memorable night of pure football theatre at the Galpharm, the Geordie manager was quick to point out: “We’ve still got a massive job on our hands.”
Wednesday’s 4-2 penalty shoot-out win over Bournemouth, which followed a marathon semi-final second leg which finished 3-3 after extra time and 4-4 on aggregate, sparked wild celebrations at the prospect of a Sunday, May 29 promotion tilt at Old Trafford.
Father of three Clark was quick to climb the steps from dug-out to directors’ box to share the moment with his wife and children.
“They’re calling me Pat Cash,” he smiled after emulating the Aussie tennis ace’s reaction to winning Wimbledon back in 1987.
“But I put the family through the wringer during the course of a season and I just wanted to say thanks to them for their support.
“They know just what the club and the job mean to me, and it will be a proud moment to have them alongside me again at Old Trafford.”
Clark called Wednesday’s triumph his best moment in football and admitted the “fear factor” of letting down Town owner and chairman Dean Hoyle had driven him on.
After watching Lee Peltier, Danny Ward and Antony Kay score in 120 minutes of excitement Clark flitted from pitchside to his office during the shoot-out.
But he had no need to sweat as Lee Novak, Ward, Kevin Kilbane and Kay scored their spot kicks while Ian Bennett saved from Liam Feeney and Anton Robinson hit the bar.
“I’ve got huge sympathy for the Bournemouth lads who missed, because they and their teammates played their part in a tremendous match,” added the 38-year-old, who suffered the misery of play-off semi-final loss to Millwall last year.
“In between the end of extra time and the start of the penalties, I told their manager Lee Bradbury that his players were a credit to their club.
“I also shook hands with Dean and we agreed that the lads couldn’t have given any more – but somehow they did.
“I’m delighted for them and I’m delighted for Dean, because he’s a fan who has backed me unbelievably, even during one or two indifferent spells.
“The only fear factor for me was letting Dean down. I’ve had to track Pep Guardiola all over the Nou Camp, but I was more nervous about Wednesday’s game.”
Town are looking to make it 28 league games unbeaten over at Old Trafford and Clark continued: “I thought the players were brilliant.
“They started unbelievably with the tempo and the chances we created and they responded to all the setbacks.
“We knew Bournemouth would keep going, but cup football, which is what it was, is all about being the winners.
“You don’t go 26 games before that unbeaten, like my players had done, without desire and passion and they showed that in abundance.
“When it came to the penalties, we knew who would take them, so for Bournemouth’s I was out on the touchline, but when it was us, I was back in my office.
“The feeling when Antony sealed it was unbelievable, and it was the most special I’ve had in football because being a manager is completely different to being a player.
“As a player you look after yourself, but as a manager it’s 30 players and 10 staff and you have all the expectations of the supporters hanging on every decision you make.
“But what terrific supporters, and it’s fantastic that we sent them home happy and with a really big game to look forward to.”
Town aim to end a decade-long absence from the second tier of the English game, and Clark continued: “I know the fans had their fair share of setbacks, and there was a bit of tension around the place, to my message now is enjoy the final.
“We all realise there’s a huge job still to be done, and I know the lads will knuckle down and prepare properly, because promotion has always been the aim.”