FOOTBALL’s biggest stage will host Burton Albion this weekend in their fifth meeting with Fleetwood Town this season, and the man who helped get them there believes his side have the measure of their opponents.
Marcus Holness belied his stature to rise above the Southend United defence and nod home the opening goal at Roots Hall on Saturday as the Brewers drew 2-2 to claim a 3-2 aggregate victory and with it, passage to the national stadium for the final of the League Two play-offs.
They will meet the Cod Army, who booked their own place with a much more demure 1-0 victory against York City in their semi-final, in a fixture that has become a regular occurrence.
Two years ago, Burton had never faced Fleetwood in any competition, despite both clubs’ long history in non-league football. They have now played them seven times in 21 months.
“We’ve played Fleetwood a fair few times in my two seasons here, and I’d say we’ve come out on top overall,” said Holness.
“We know what they’re about, but we’ve got to go there with our own game-plan, be on top form and see what we can do at Wembley.”
Holness was not born last time Albion went to Wembley - 27 years ago - for the final of the FA Trophy, but says confidence is high among his team-mates that they can reach the third tier for the first time in their history.
He said: “If you don’t think you can go all the way, there’s no point going, is there?”
“We’ve got a great squad, and great players who can come into the team who weren’t in it today.
“We’ve got a really good chance of getting promoted.”
Holness broke the deadlock after 21 minutes on the south coast, but was quick to share the credit with Chris Hussey, whose free kick he reached at the far post and guided into the Southend net.
He said: “It just seemed to open up for me. Chris Hussey has got great quality so I just gambled and the ball was there.
“I didn’t have to do too much, he put it on a plate for me.
“You can see why Huss has been a Championship player, he’s got great quality on the ball, he’s relaxed, he’s composed and I think he showed that today.
“He got man of the match, and I think it was well deserved.”
That goal gave Albion a 2-0 lead on aggregate, but that was wiped out before half-time, as Ryan Leonard and Anthony Straker scored for the Shrimpers.
But with just over 20 minutes to go, Adam McGurk capitalised on poor defending from the hosts to smash home the winning goal.
“Seeing the second goal go in was a great feeling,” said Holness.
“It wasn’t as good as hearing the final whistle, but it was good.
“Gurksy is a poacher, he’s always in and around there. He knew he had a chance of scoring and he’s sealed the deal for us.”
Southend were on top for the first half, and threw everything, including goalkeeper Daniel Bentley, forward in the closing stages in search of the equaliser.
“The squad pulled together, we got our shape, got our backs against the wall and defended for our lives,” said Holness.
“We’ve come out winning, so we can’t ask for any more, really.
“I was worried when I saw their keeper coming up because we were struggling at the set pieces with everybody in there.
“But we dealt with it well and we’ve come out on top.”
Barry Corr, all 6’3” of him, was billed as Southend’s biggest threat, but was kept largely quiet by Holness and co.
“He’s a lot taller than me - I’m not the tallest centre-half - but I think we dealt with him well,” said the 25-year-old.
“He didn’t win too many headers and when he did, we cut out the second ball.
“It’s just about who wants it more, and if you want it more, you’re going to win the header.”