Richards unflustered

NERVES will be twitching, palms will get sweaty and butterflies will be somersaulting in tens of thousands of stomachs at Upton Park tomorrow – but not for Matt Richards, writes Derek Davis.

NERVES will be twitching, palms will get sweaty and butterflies will be somersaulting in tens of thousands of stomachs at Upton Park tomorrow – but not for Matt Richards, writes Derek Davis.

Skipper Jim Magilton wanted to knock him out, manager Joe Royle shakes his head in disbelief – how on earth can a 19-year-old be so calm?

Typically, Richards doesn't understand what all the fuss is about. So what if he is the most relaxed player in the dressing room moments before a vital play-off match? So what if he yawns during the warm-up and so what if he deals with Premiership-quality players week in week out with all the confidence of a seasoned pro?

The teenager with the ice-cool approach has left veterans like Magilton and Royle amazed.

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The Town skipper said: "Can you believe him? He was actually yawning in the warm-up stretches.

"I couldn't believe it, I was going to knock him out. I thought he was having a laugh but nothing seems to faze him."

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Royle admits: "The kid's incredible. I was looking around the players just before the Sheffield United game, a big game for us to get a play off place, in front of live television, and there is Matt as calm as you like – totally relaxed."

Play in front of 30,000 fans, 35,000 hostile supporters – no bother. Just don't ask him to make a speech.

Richards admits: "I usually yawn in the warm-ups to be honest. I don't get nervous before games it doesn't bother me.

"It comes naturally. I'm really happy out on the pitch. I would rather be playing in front of 28,000 like on Saturday than make a speech in front of 10 people.

"I just love playing so much and these sort of games are brilliant to play in."

The former county level rugby player has taken to being a regular like a duck to water, and just as the team had to come though a tough spell – so did the Essex boy.

With Chris Makin sidelined through injury, Richards has made the left-back position his own and has not missed a game since mid-August.

He is convinced Town have earned the right to be where they are and are capable of taking the next big step to reach the Millennium Stadium.

Richards said: "The team deserves being in the play-offs. We didn't start the season very well and were bottom of the league, but a lot of people worked very hard to put things right and we are where we are now because of that.

"We can repeat what we did on Saturday. We need to set ourselves right, get the defence as it was in the first leg then we have a great chance of getting into the final."

Town are hoping John McGreal is passed fit after a calf strain and Richards is delighted Fabian Wilnis will not miss out despite clocking up 10 bookings.

He said: "The back four has really gelled together now and John would be a big miss but hopefully he will be okay. It is great about Fabian too because he is an important part of that four and it will be a big help with them both in."

Another product of Town's wonderful Academy system, Richards revealed how the Town stars rallied around pal Darren Bent, who put his midweek trauma behind him to score the winner.

He said: "Everyone took the micky out of Benty and he got a lot of stick, especially from Jim. But then everyone just tried to help him relax and concentrate on the game

"Darren's paid to score goals and as long as he does that he is doing his job. He did that for us again by being in the right place at the right time and I'm really happy for him."

Earlier in the season, Richards was being tracked by Newcastle United and Southampton, among other clubs. The way he is going, more big Premiership clubs will be lining up bids for him – but even that won't be enough for him to stifle a yawn.

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