THE BIG MATCH
A season of hard work comes down to one match for Bradford City and Northampton Town as the pair go head-to-head in the npower League 2 Play-Off Final on Saturday at Wembley.
Bradford, who finished seventh in the League 2 table, negotiated their way past Burton Albion over two legs in the semi-finals to book their place in the Final, while Northampton saw off the challenge of last year's beaten finalists Cheltenham Town.
The Bantams' two meetings with the Brewers were action-packed, ending 5-4 on aggregate, while the Cobblers games against the Robins were the total opposite, with Aidy Boothroyd's men taking both matches 1-0.
And those two victories and clean sheets for the Sixfields outfit extended their winning run to three, without conceding a goal.
Centre-back, and club captain, Kelvin Langmead didn't play a defensive part in any of those three games after picking up an injury but he's fit for Wembley, which will give manager Boothroyd some food for thought.
"The lads [centre-backs Clarke Carlisle and Nathan Cameron] have done fantastically well and I don't expect to walk back into the team," Langmead, who is hoping to make it third time lucky after losing two Play-Off Finals with Shrewsbury Town, told Northampton Chronicle and Echo.
"I know I am going to have to work to try and prove myself."
Like his skipper, Bradford-born Boothroyd has previous experience of Play-Off Finals, but his are far more positive.
The 42-year-old, who took over at Northampton in November 2011 when they were struggling at the foot of League 2, masterminded Watford's rise to the Premier League in 2006, which culminated in the Hornets beating Leeds United 3-0 in the Championship Play-Off Final.
"It is high pressure and it is nerve-wracking when you do it for the first time," Boothroyd explained to the Chronicle and Echo. "But I'm a lot more relaxed about this one than I was the first time around.
"I'm at my best when I feel everything has been done. When we're on the bus driving into Wembley there will be the warm-up and one team talk to go and everything else will have been done.
"We will have made sure that the team is picked and the players are ready."
Saturday's Wembley showdown will be Bradford's 64th game of what has been an eventful and exciting campaign, but boss Phil Parkinson insisted his squad remain as fresh as ever.
The Bantams reached the Capital One Cup Final after seeing off the likes of Arsenal and Aston Villa and, following a defeat to Swansea City at Wembley, finished the League 2 season strongly, losing just twice in 15 matches, to confirm a Play-Off place.
They saw off the challenge of Burton over a thrilling two-legged semi to secure a return to the capital, and Parkinson now hopes to finish off the campaign in style.
"I feel this team have still got a lot of running and enthusiasm left in them. You see that every day at training, even this late in the season," the former Colchester United manager told the Bradford Telegraph and Argus.
"Sometimes you still have to drag the players off the training pitch because they want to keep going that little bit extra. They've still got the energy and the enthusiasm.
"You can't fault the Play-Offs because they keep the season alive for so many teams. It's a great way to get promotion and we will endeavour to do that.
"We've had a good taste of what the Play-Offs are about against Burton. Now we've just got to concentrate on one more game and playing as we know we can. Do that and the result will take care of itself."
Amongst his ranks, Parkinson has one of the most prolific marksmen in League 2 this term - Nahki Wells.
The hit man, who signed on a free transfer from Carlisle United in 2011, has five goals in his last six appearances against Northampton, and also hit the net three times over the two Play-Off semis against the Brewers.
The Bermudan now believes he has a good chance of adding a couple more to his tally against the Cobblers.
He told the Bradford Telegraph and Argus: "25 is the exact number I set out for myself to score at the beginning of the season so I'm delighted to reach it.
"But I know there are more to come yet. I've got two more in my locker - I'll save them for Wembley. I've scored against Northampton already so I'm confident that I can do it again and help us get promoted."
The match at Wembley will be the fifth meeting between Bradford and Northampton this season and, so far, the Cobblers are yet to taste victory.
The first clash was a league encounter that took place under the lights at Sixfields on a Tuesday night in October, and the Bantams returned north with all three points courtesy of a 53rd-minute Nahki Wells strike.
It was the FA Cup that then paired the two sides for another showdown at Sixfields and it ended level at 1-1 meaning a replay at Valley Parade was needed. The two sides couldn't be separated in the replay, playing out a thrilling 3-3 draw after extra-time, so the tie went to penalties, which the home side won, maintaining their good domestic cup form.
In the most recent meeting between the two teams, in early April, it was again Nahki Wells who scored the decisive goal, giving Phil Parkinson's men three points to aid their push for the Play-Offs.
Historically, the Bantams also have the upper hand, winning 16 times against Northampton. The Cobblers have got the the better of Bradford on just six occasions since the first meeting between the two in 1972.
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