By Tony Leighton
Crewe Alexandra's latest wonderkid Max Clayton is hoping that figuring in the starting line-up for the Railwaymen's last four npower League 1 matches has put him firmly in the frame to be on the Wembley pitch from the kick-off of Sunday's Johnstone's Paint Trophy Final against League 2 side Southend United.
More than two-thirds of the of the 18-year-old England youth international's previous 64 first-team appearances had been as substitute, including a brief 10-minute spell at the end of last season's League 2 Play-Off Final as Crewe beat Cheltenham Town 2-0 on a memorable afternoon at the national stadium.
Now the young striker, tipped by many to be the next big-money transfer from Gresty Road's seemingly never-ending production line of talent, wants not 10 but 90 minutes on the magical stage that is Wembley - not that he will be pounding on the door of manager Steve Davis demanding a place in the starting line-up.
"I just hope that I've done enough in these last few games to get picked for Sunday," Clayton told football-league.co.uk. "I can't complain at the number of first team games I've been given - I don't think that many lads of my age can have played the same amount that I've done, and credit to the club for that.
"A lot of my appearances may have been as sub, but I've had some very good experiences in those games. It was unbelievable to play at Wembley in last year's Play-Off Final, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I felt I did okay in the short time I was on the pitch, and to help the club win promotion was a great feeling."
The opportunity to enjoy that great feeling was due in no small part to Clayton himself, the youngster having - as a late substitute - hit the goal that clinched a 2-2 second leg draw in the Play-Off semi-final following a first leg 1-0 victory over the team that the Railwaymen are now set to face in the Trophy Final.
"To score such an important goal was amazing," said Clayton. "I thought we deserved to go through to the Final over the two legs, but this Sunday is a whole new ball game. Southend have had a lot of changes from this time last year and so have we, so it's fingers crossed we can come up with the same end-result."
If Crewe are to achieve the same end-result Clayton could play a key role, as he has previously in Johnstone's Paint Trophy ties. His very first senior goal came in the competition, against Macclesfield Town 18 months ago, and this term he has scored in wins against Shrewsbury Town and Bradford City en route to the Final.
"That goal against Macclesfield wasn't just my first goal," pointed out Clayton, "it was also my full debut. So the Johnstone's Paint Trophy has been quite an important competition for me. It's been great this season to help the club get to the Final, and hopefully now I can play a part in us lifting the Trophy."
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