ENGLISH import Neil Smith hopes to extend his playing career by three games — starting with tomorrow’s knock-out quarter final against Melrose.
The Wangaratta midfielder returned to Australia after a five-game stint at the club last year.
Smith, who played more than 40 professional games for Notts County’s reserves in England, intends to retire after the season.
“It would be great to get an extra three games starting with Sunday against Melrose,” he said.
Wangaratta’s Mario Antonello said the Red Devils had benefited on and off the field from the addition of Smith and two other Englishmen — Stefan Joseph and Richard Hodgman — this year.
“We only picked up Stef a week before the season started but it was a real coup,” he said.
“He takes his football very seriously, trains with the under-16s and then the men.
“Neil Smith has done the same, training the ladies as well as playing senior football — the English boys have been not only great for the team but they have been great for our club.”
Last week Wangaratta rested nine of its players in a shock loss to Hotspurs, while Melrose also rested several of its key playmakers.
Coach Josh Fluss said most of those who missed the Wodonga Diamonds loss would be back tomorrow — the only exception Kade Rixon who is likely to come off the bench.
But he doesn’t believe finals experience last year will play too great a role in tomorrow’s contest.
“It was great to get to the final last year but this is again finals football, everyone lifts,” he said.
“It’s no secret that both teams play a similar game, we look to knock it into space for the likes of Adam Waters, Rixon and Evan Rawluk.
“But at the same time we have been working on trying to keep it a bit more, if you give it away to often you leave yourself open to some soft goals.”
The two teams played out a 1-1 draw earlier in the year before a Joseph hat-trick helped Wangaratta to a 4-2 win in the second round.
Joseph and Fluss were later dismissed from the field that day after being given two yellow cards.
“Stef has been in great form up front but if Melrose look to shut him down we have Jake Giannakis there too,” he said.
“He has improved with each game this year and was outstanding against Hotspurs, if Stef gets more attention then necessary he is a worthy substitute.”
Fluss said they were yet to decide on whether their experiment playing defender Steve Perkins up front would continue tomorrow.