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First team

Phil keen to claim Danish bragging rights

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AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

Denmark international Phil Billing is hoping to help AFC Bournemouth spoil the play-off party in his homeland.

Copenhagen-born Billing has played a starring role for the Cherries since being given a more advanced role under head coach Jonathan Woodgate.

Billing has netted seven of his eight goals and supplied all four of his assists since Woodgate first took the reins against Birmingham in February.

The 24-year-old was pivotal as the Cherries registered seven successive wins in the Championship for the first time in their history, his contribution including five goals and three assists.

His exploits helped the Cherries finish sixth, setting up a play-off semi-final against third-placed Brentford, the first leg taking place at Vitality Stadium on Monday (6pm kick-off).

The clash is certain to capture the imagination of football fans across Denmark due to the close links between Brentford and Danish Superliga leaders FC Midtjylland.

No fewer than nine members of the Bees squad together with head coach Thomas Frank and some of his backroom staff are from the Nordic country.

And Midtjylland chairman Rasmus Ankersen is also co-director of football at Brentford, while leading football analyst Mathew Benham has a significant interest in both clubs.

Billing, who won the Sky Bet Championship goal of the month for March for his stunning strike against Swansea, played alongside Brentford duo Henrik Dalsgaard and Mathias Jensen when he made his senior debut for Denmark against Faroe Islands in October.

He told afcb.co.uk: “People in Denmark want Brentford to go up because of the connections with Midtjylland and it’s another motivation for me to beat them.

“I watched a Danish game the other day and they were saying how good it would be for the Superliga and Midtjylland if Brentford could go up. I was sitting there thinking ‘no, we can’t let that happen!’

“Brentford are a great team and we have lost to them twice this season. They are hard to play against. But I’m sure they think the same about us which is why I think it will be a good game.

“We know what we have to do and when we play at our best, we know we are a problem for any team in this league so we have to make sure we hit our form on Monday.

“You don’t get an opportunity to play in these games very often in your career so we need to embrace it.

“There is going to be a lot of tension and nerves but it’s a football match and I’m going to enjoy it and play with a smile on my face.

“Nerves are a good thing but you should also enjoy it and embrace it. That’s what I’m going to do and I’m sure the rest of the team will as well. I can’t wait and can’t stop thinking about the game.”

Billing, who has also been capped by his country at under-21 and under-19 level, has welcomed the return of supporters with just over 2,000 set to be at Vitality Stadium.

“We have a big week coming up and I know everybody is going to be up for it,” he said. “Personally, I can’t wait for these games.

“It’s a play-off semi-final, fans are back in and it’s going to be high energy and a good atmosphere. I’m just looking forward to getting back out there.

“There is a lot on the line but, as a player, these are the games you look forward to. You relish playing in the big games.

“We have missed our fans for the whole season and they always give you that extra bit. When you are playing, you want the fans to be there because of the atmosphere.

“It’s not that you don’t have motivation anyway, but it can give you a bit more. It’s different and it feels like real football.

“I know it’s only around 2,000 but it’s better than none that’s for sure. Hopefully, they can create a good atmosphere.”

Discussing his form, Billing added: “We haven’t been great in our past three games but we went on an excellent winning run before then and that’s what we need to reproduce.

“For me personally, with the head coach pushing me further forward, I am enjoying my football. I enjoy playing in there and enjoy playing in the team.

“I’ve had a free role and don’t have too many things to think about. I just go on the pitch and do what I do best. I feel like it has paid off.

“I don’t think that’s my best, even though I’ve been pleased with it. I still think there are a lot of small things I can work on and get better at in every aspect of the game.

“I feel like it’s only now that I’ve shown people what I can really do but there’s a lot more to come.”

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