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Millwall skipper has unfinished Wembley business

TONY Craig says Wembley is “only a place for winners” as Millwall look forward to a second attempt in two seasons to win promotion to the Championship.

The Lions came through a dramatic seven days when Shaun Hutchinson’s late winner at Bristol Rovers sealed six place in the final League One table.

Neil Harris’ side seemed to hand the advantage to Scunthorpe when they could only draw 0-0 at The Den in the first leg of their semi-final last Thursday. They then fell behind at Glanford Park on Sunday, before sensationally turning the tie on its head with three goals in 13 minutes and then hanging on through an agonising six minutes of injury-time at the end of the game.

But Craig insisted all of that will mean nothing if they don’t beat Bradford in the final on May 20.

“It was the longest six minutes of my life last weekend,” Craig admitted. “We were under siege, balls coming into our box, but we defended strongly, Hutch deflected a ball wide, Fergie [Shane Ferguson] was throwing himself in front of shots. We dealt with it very well and we showed what strength we have in this squad.

“But Wembley is only a place for winners, not for losers. We will go there with our game plan and do everything it takes to win.

“We have a bit of experience from last season, playing at Wembley. When you’re a kid you want to play there. We will enjoy it, take it in, but then the warm-ups and all that start and it’s business time.”

This will be Craig’s fourth play-off final with Millwall at Wembley. He has lost two finals – in 2009 and 2016 – but knows what it takes to come back the following season after their 1-0 win over Swindon in 2010.

Craig got injured in the 44th minute of that final and had to be replaced with Andy Frampton. He was on crutches as he celebrated on the pitch.

Although he started last season’s final against Barnsley, it was a last-minute call-up after Byron Webster suffered a reoccurrence of a hamstring injury in the warm-up.

This year, assuming no injuries in training in the next week, he will start at left-back, his 57th appearance this season out of 61 games. He will fulfil his captain duties in the week leading up to the game, responsibilities that Steve Morison had at the same stage last season before the armband switched back with Craig's late inclusion in the starting XI.

Despite the number of games he has played Craig is still taking nothing for granted: “We don’t know the teams yet!”

He added: “Last season I wanted to take the occasion in more because when you think you’re not playing that’s what you want to do. It was very unfortunate for Byron.

“Of course it’s sweeter as you get older, the years are rolling on for me but I’m as fit as ever. I’ve been fortunate to be able to keep myself in great shape.

“It’s the most games I’ve ever played in a season. As long as I feel fit I’ll keep going. I’ll also always be honest with myself when I feel I can’t be as fit as I’d like.

“You’ve got to enjoy every moment and embrace it, and I enjoy every moment of it.

“I know what responsibility I’ve got coming up, leading the club, more media come into the training ground leading up to the game, that’s different because usually we don’t have that many people interested in us.

“It means everything to me. I was sat in stand as a lad, so to lead this team is a dream for me and my family who have been with me and supported me every step of the way.”

Despite not wanting to predict the starting XI, Craig will almost certainly be at the front of the line of Lions players at Wembley for the second year in a row, this time being able to enjoy the build-up with that knowledge.

It could be him lifting the trophy at the home of English football, but all he cares about is that Millwall will have clinched their place in the Championship on Saturday evening, May 20.

“I’m going to take it all in, but I’m only thinking about winning,” he said.

“I don’t think about personal accolades or personal achievements. I just want to get this done, get over the line and get promotion.”

Image: Millwall FC 

John Kelly

(@jkelly1882)