By Tony Leighton
Southend United goalkeeper Paul Smith will step out for Wednesday evening's second leg of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy Southern Area Final against Leyton Orient aiming to keep a clean sheet that will guarantee a Wembley final.
Smith's shut-out in the first leg at the Matchroom Stadium helped the npower League 2 Blues to a 1-0 victory that has given them the edge against their League 1 opponents heading into the televised second leg at Roots Hall.
And if the home side triumph it will give the former Southampton and Nottingham Forest 'keeper the chance to improve on the League Trophy runners-up medal he collected - as an unused substitute - with Brentford in 2001.
In what was his first season as a professional, Smith sat on the bench at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium as the Bees went down 2-1 to Port Vale. "Although I didn't play," Smith told football-league.co.uk, "it was great to be part of a big occasion.
"I wasn't the first choice goalkeeper in that first season I had at Brentford, although I did play as a second-half substitute in the second leg of the Area Final - ironically enough against Southend - so I did play a part in getting to the Millennium.
"The day of the final was a really good experience despite the disappointment of losing, and it was the same again the following year when I played the whole 90 minutes of the League 1 Play-Off Final that we lost to Stoke City at the Millennium."
That was played two, lost two at the Millennium for Smith, who was then denied a Wembley trip for the 2007 League 1 Play-Off Final when his Nottingham Forest team lost the semi-final to Yeovil Town 5-4 on aggregate - after a 2-0 first leg win.
So a first Wembley appearance of his career in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy Final would be sweet indeed for the 33-year-old keeper, who may even make two trips to the national stadium this term as Southend could end up in the Play-Off Final.
Southend are currently four points below League 2's top seven and Smith said: "Promotion would be great and that's what we're aiming for, and we've got plenty of games left to push ourselves up the table.
"But the focus right now is on the Johnstone's Paint Trophy and trying to beat Leyton Orient to get to Wembley. We're not short of confidence after doing really well to win the first leg - but as I know from experience, the job's only half done."
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