LEE NOVAK has never been so popular!
The 21-year-old Geordie striker is gearing up for a tilt at a promotion double after the return to the top flight of his boyhood favourites Newcastle.
And it seems a section of the Toon Army are temporarily transferring their allegiance to Town ahead of their League I play-off semi-final against Millwall.
“I’ve had a lot of calls and texts from family and friends,” revealed Novak, a bargain £150,000 buy from Gateshead who was delighted to see his former club retain Blue Square Premier status on the final day of their season.
“They’re all season-ticket holders at St James’ Park, but with their matches over, they’re taking a big interest in ours.
“They’re all full of it after Newcastle’s success, but I know they’re all wanting us to do well too, and it’s fantastic to have their backing.
“Like I say, there’s been a lot of interest in the two semi-final legs (at the Galpharm on Saturday and New Den on Tuesday), and if we can get to Wembley, I think I’d have to hire a coach!”
To be within two games of a final at the national stadium underlines the progress made by Novak, who was a play-off winner with Gateshead as they moved up from the Blue Square North 12 months ago.
“It’s amazing really, and sometimes I have to pinch myself,” admitted the former Gretna and Newcastle Blue Star player, who has bagged 14 goals in his debut campaign.
“Last season I was playing in front of a few hundred people in the Conference, now we’re getting big crowds and pushing for promotion to the Championship.
“The possibility of playing at Wembley with promotion the prize is a superb incentive, and I can clearly remember the fantastic feeling of winning the play-off final with Gateshead.
“No disrespect to Gateshead, because they played a big part in my development, but this is something else, and I’ll be going all out to help us achieve our target.”
Neil Harris is at the other end of the career spectrum to Novak, but the veteran Millwall forward is just as eager to succeed.
The 32-year-old, who has 18 goals this time around and 135 for the Lions in all, suffered play-off misery last season when his side lost 3-2 to Scunthorpe at Wembley after beating Leeds 2-1 on aggregate in the semis.
That continued a pattern of play-off misery for Millwall, who had been involved four times previously (Championship in 1991 and 1994 and 2002, League I in 2000) and each time lost in the semi-finals.
Harris, involved against both Wigan in 2000 and Birmingham two years later, is determined to put the record straight, especially after Millwall came so close to automatic promotion (Leeds pipped them by a point).
He said: “We haven’t got a great record in the play offs but I’m confident of getting through. Past records don’t count in the play-offs, they are cup competitions.
“We never had a great record in the FA Cup and got to the final a few years ago (2004), so history doesn’t matter.”
He added: “We have been strong at home all year and we will need to be strong at home in the play-offs. We have to improve slightly on our away form, but it is a great game for us against Huddersfield.
“I feel we can get something up there. We lost 1-0 at the Galpharm a few weeks ago but we played very well in the second half and probably deserved something.
“And we beat them 3-1 here at The New Den so I guess it evened itself out over the two games.
“We’ve done really well against the teams in the top six this season and we will take the positives from that and the fact we beat Leeds over two legs last year.
“I also believe the squad is better now than it was last year.”