SKIPPER Zander Diamond reckons tonight’s League Two play-off semi-final between Bradford City and Burton Albion will be the most important match he has played in – if he is picked.
The 28-year-old Brewers centre-half came back into the side for last week’s 3-2 win over Gillingham after being dropped following the 7-1 thrashing at Port Vale.
Despite playing against Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid while with Aberdeen, Diamond rates tonight’s clash, kick-off 7.45pm, as the pinnacle of his career so far.
“I had this conversation with my father and my missus,” he said. “I played in the UEFA Cup and played against Atletico Madrid and Bayern in the Allianz Arena.
“Sitting watching the Champions League, it makes you think – I’ve actually been in that dressing room and down that tunnel.
“Then you think to yourself, can it get any better?
“But I think we were going to the games just to play and have fun.
“Talking about importance, I think this game is probably the most important of my career.
“Coinciding with the fact no-one gave us a chance at the beginning of the season and made us one of the favourites to be relegated, to come this far in 10 months, these are the two most important and significant games of my career so far.”
Diamond was disappointed to be dropped after the humiliation at Port Vale on Friday, April 5.
He was recalled on Saturday and has his fingers crossed he will be in Gary Rowett’s starting side at Valley Parade tonight.
“I was a bit disappointed not to have played the last few before I came in against Gillingham,” said the former Aberdeen man. “We’re in a position now where everyone is champing at the bit to play – and I’m no different.
“Personally, I’m raring to go and play in these play-offs and get the club to a final.
“It was a long weekend after Port Vale because we weren’t in till the Monday.
“We let ourselves down that night, but Vale had everything going for them on the occasion – scoring in the first 10 and getting two penalties. The game was dead and buried.
“I’ve been in the game a long time and have bounced back from worse.
“The manager said he was freshening it up and you’ve just got to take it.
“It was difficult, but you dust yourself down and get back training with the boys.
“It’s that time of the season where you put your personal grievances aside for the team and hopefully I’ve done enough on Saturday to merit a start.”
Diamond did not expect Albion to be contesting the play-offs when he joined following his release by Oldham Athletic.
“If I’m honest I’d say no,” he said. “I think Burton just came off the back off a hellish run of games the previous season, where they couldn’t get a win.
“They were flirting with relegation, but I came here with only six or seven players registered for this season and I needed to ask the manager what he was bringing in.
“He assured me he would have a team in place and a depth to the squad and I think you can see he’s been true to his word – not only with the quantity he’s brought in, but the quality too.
“Anyone on the bench or not in the squad can come in and replace those starting.
“It’s a great bunch of lads and to be in the play-offs with a chance of getting to the League Two play-off final is beyond our expectations.”
Pundits expect the Brewers to lose against Bradford, who have been installed as favourites to win the play-offs – with Albion out at 3/1 with most bookmakers.
But being the underdogs is perfect for Diamond, who says the Brewers will want to prove everyone wrong.
“Being underdogs suits us,” he said. “We’ve got nothing to lose, we can only prove people wrong.
“We’re away from home first and will give a good account of ourselves before coming back here.
“We don’t fear anybody here whatsoever – we’ve got the best home record in the Football League.
“We’re not going to fear anybody.
“It’s brilliant to be written off – I’ve had it personally in my career and with my teams in club football.”
Diamond refers to how he went from playing in the UEFA Cup to competing in League Two in the space of little over four years.
A move to Heart of Midlothian fell through due to him mysteriously failing a medical, while Oldham Athletic’s financial state prevented Diamond from staying at Boundary Park after they signed him at the start of last season.
He has been more than impressive in his first season at the Pirelli Stadium – and was in the running for player of the year until a red card at AFC Wimbledon cost him his place.
“It was one of this things – it was a whirlwind at Aberdeen and I was leaving at the end of my contract,” he said.
“From my stock being high for three years, two years later I’ve had to rebuild again.
“It’d be good to prove the people wrong and prove the doubters wrong, the people who failed my medical or said I was injured all the time.
“But that’s the way football works – stock goes up and stock goes down.
“And I’m very happy here at Burton.”