GENTLE giant John Hartson insists the fortress Millennium Stadium could be the fundamental factor that will nudge Wales into a Euro 2004 finals play-off place.

Mark Hughes' Wales are unbeaten in eight games at the Cardiff arena - and Celtic striker Hartson is convinced that the run will stretch to double figures and secure the Welsh an amazing play-off spot with the ultimate prize of a trip to Portugal next summer.

That tricky task begins tonight as Finland visit the Millennium Stadium before a rejuvenated Serbia and Montenegro travel to South Wales on October 11 for the final Group Nine clash.

And Wales boss Hughes knows those two teams can pip Wales to that important play-off place.

But Hughes, whose side trail new leaders Italy by a point in Group Nine, also understands that a Welsh victory tonight would secure a play-off spot.

The 36-times capped Hartson admitted Welsh pride was on the floor following Saturday's 'embarrassing' 4-0 defeat in Italy and last month's 1-0 reverse in Serbia.

But in a tub-thumping message to fans, an inspirational Hartson, who has scored five of his ten Welsh goals at the Millennium Stadium, maintained: "Wales are a much different proposition at the Millennium Stadium.

"Some of the results we've had there have been great, the Millennium Stadium gives us that little bit extra.

"Our fans get behind us and create that extra-man atmosphere.

"We have dipped a little bit and I'm sure we can get back to winning ways tonight, even though it will be very tough.

"I know we're on a bit of a downer but it's a full house and at the Millennium Stadium and we're all looking forward to the game.

"We are more than capable of winning our final two home games, then we'd have won six out of eight so there's nothing for anyone to be down about.

"Italy were always going to win the group. We gave ourselves a slight chance by going above them but now becoming runners-up behind them is our new challenge.

"We've had two bad back-to-back results and we were disappointed and embarrassed by the nature of the Italy defeat and we've all taken it really badly. But we can still clinch a play-off place with a win tonight so it's not all doom and gloom."

Hughes has got injury concerns as well as having three key players - midfielder Robbie Savage, striker Craig Bellamy and defender Mark Delaney - suspended but Hartson pointed-out: "When I wasn't a regular I loved the chance to show my capabilities and I'm sure the fringe boys now will feel exactly the same."