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Loanees Primed For Promotion Face-Off

by Daniel Alston @efc_danalston

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What price friendship when the stakes are high?

If winning denies a teammate the same joy, is it still a victory?

Try telling Jake Bidwell and John Lundstram there is anything bigger than three points this weekend.

The two Everton youngsters have been riding high on loan in League One this season - yet Saturday will see the pair line up against one another with the grand prize of automatic promotion up for grabs.

And despite growing up together in the Academy changing rooms and playing for the same side for the past decade, when Brentford and Doncaster Rovers lock horns in the final league fixture, any bond will be temporarily cast aside.

The standings favour Rovers ahead of kick-off. A point for them will be enough to guarantee a place in the Championship.

But midfielder Lundstram knows his Blues colleague Bidwell is focused every bit as much on the victory his side require.

"I've spoken to Jake and we're looking forward to the game," he explains. "Hopefully, whatever the result on Saturday, we can both get promotion one way or another. That would be nice.

"I've been at Everton with him for nine or 10 years now. We used to sit next to each other in the dressing room, his locker was next to mine, so I know him very well.

"I've played against him in training and small-sided games but never against him in a proper match. He's a big physical lad and I'm sure he'll give whoever’s playing on the right wing a hard game."

Left-back Bidwell has been with Brentford for much of the past two seasons.

Lundstram, on the other hand, only joined Donny in February but has already made a telling impact in South Yorkshire.

"By all accounts he's done well up there,” says Bidwell. “He's a good all-round midfield player. He can tackle, he's got a good range of passing and I think he's a leader as well. He's captained his age group for England for the last year or so and it's good to see him getting out, getting some games and doing well.

"Especially this season, I've played against people I know and I know there'll be no love lost on Saturday."

John Lundstram

The game itself will be a season finale for one of the youngsters. For the other, it’s the lottery of the play-offs ahead.

But win or lose, each player already has plenty of positives to reflect on from their respective campaigns.

"The loan all happened dead quickly," Lundstram recalls. "I got a call from Alan Stubbs to explain what was happening and then I was off to Doncaster to meet the manager, Brian Flynn.

"He told me when I got there that he wanted to throw me right in and give me my first start that Saturday, just three days later. I've been playing pretty much ever since, so I guess I must have impressed him. It's been brilliant."

Amassing 13 appearances to date, Lundstram has not only been a regular starter in the Donny side, he has also racked up 90 minutes on almost every occasion he’s played.

"The manager just said that he had watched me for the Under-21s and he liked me as a player," the 19-year-old continues. "He told me to go out and express myself and see what I can do. He said if I could chip in with a few goals as well, that would be nice, but I haven't been able to get one yet!

"I'm very lucky that a team like Doncaster wanted me on loan because they have a lot of good quality and I think that's helped me through the games. All of the lads are great and I've settled in really well."

Jake Bidwell tangles with Chelsea's David Luiz at Stamford Bridge.

Bidwell, meanwhile, knew he was heading to familiar territory when his switch to North London was confirmed in August last year.

Having made 46 appearances so far in 2012/13 - including one against Chelsea in the FA Cup - and 25 the previous term, he admits there has been a contrast between his two spells as a Bee.

"It's been a lot different to last year," he explained. "Last year I came in on my first loan spell, the pressure was on me to prove myself and this year as a team we've had to deal with the expectations of how we did last season.

"We just missed out on the play-offs last May but we've been expected to at least reach them this time around."

Similar to Flynn's immediate faith in Lundstram, Brentford boss Uwe Rosler has shown repeated approval of Bidwell – something for which the player himself is grateful.

"He's a great manager. Some will say he's a typical European manager. He's very passionate about the game and he thinks everything through to the fine details,” he says. “Anyone that has been to one of our games this season will say the same thing.

"For me personally, I'm thankful for the opportunity he's given me. He put me in his team last year when I was 18, which a lot of Football League managers wouldn't have done. He's given me the chance to go out and prove myself and he's stood by me all this season as well, even when times haven't been great.

"Playing in the Football League is the next step from playing Under-21s or reserve-team football. It takes a manager to show faith in you to make it happen. When I broke into the reserve team, Stubbsy and Taff [coach Andy Holden] showed faith in me to play me.

"The stakes are a lot higher on loan, playing in front of big crowds in a league where managers can lose their jobs from not doing a lot wrong. I can't say enough about him really for all he's done for me over the last 18 months."

At 3pm on Saturday both players will walk out for their moment of truth. A quick handshake, a word in the ear, a jibe or two may pass between them. Then, the battle begins.

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