Per­fect prepa­ra­tion key to play-off glory

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP -

We are at that time of year when many clubs are pre­par­ing to fight it out for pro­mo­tion via the play offs. I can tell you from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence they can be both the hard­est and the most phe­nom­e­nal of times. On three sep­a­rate oc­ca­sions, my side qual­i­fied for the play offs; once we lost a semi; once we lost a fi­nal; once we won pro­mo­tion.

On each oc­ca­sion, we edged in on the fi­nal day of the sea­son; once with a 2-0 home vic­tory; once with a 1-2 away de­feat; once with a 3-3 home draw.

The cir­cum­stances were never the same, other than that we were never sure of our place un­til the very end. Peo­ple talk about form, they talk about men­tal­ity (of­ten sug­gest­ing that it is tough for those who miss out on au­to­matic pro­mo­tion to then re­fo­cus), they talk about pres­sure.

For me there are two very def­i­nite stages. First, how do you ap­proach the semi fi­nal? Then, how do you win the fi­nal? A two­legged semi is a strange af­fair. Win­ning a two-legged semi is un­ques­tion­ably an art.

For­tu­nately, we man­aged to win four out of the five (in­clud­ing FA Tro­phy) dou­ble leg semis we played at Steve­nage. The key is in win­ning the first leg.

Even in the one tie we lost, we were ahead af­ter the first leg. Some­times, es­pe­cially if you are away in the first leg, there could be a temp­ta­tion to play for par­ity. But we never thought like that.We took the at­ti­tude that you have to dare to win and we went for what we wanted.

On one oc­ca­sion against Kid­der­min­ster, we won away 5-1 be­cause of that.We were de­ter­mined we would not have re­grets. I see fear of de­feat as the big­gest in­hibitor to per­for­mance in the play-offs. There is so much to lose.


Hav­ing se­cured a strong first leg re­sult, it is about win­ning again. Con­fi­dence is high af­ter a first leg win and the pe­riod be­tween games is just one long ex­tended half time. Tac­tics and per­son­nel can be ad­justed but the first leg re­sult hangs over the tie.

The pe­riod be­tween games rubs su­pe­ri­or­ity and in­fe­ri­or­ity into the men­tal­i­ties. On the one oc­ca­sion that we lost a semi, we got it wrong in our plan­ning. I will never for­give my­self for book­ing a ho­tel near New­mar­ket as we played an early sec­ond leg away at Cam­bridge with­out fore­see­ing the party noise we would face from race­go­ing pun­ters. Our rest was af­fected. No ques­tion. It was a school­boy er­ror. De­tail counts.

Hav­ing won through to a fi­nal, there is then the ques­tion of how to pre­pare. Is it ‘just an­other game’? What I have learned is that any ma­jor fi­nal is like no other game. It is lu­di­crous to even be­gin to con­sider that it is. Se­lec­tion needs to be right. Sen­ti­ment can­not come into it. Ex­pe­ri­ence has a vi­tal part to play but courage is the most im­por­tant in­gre­di­ent.

Plan­ning and prepa­ra­tion needs to be right. Ex­e­cu­tion of the plan needs to be ex­act. If you get the mul­ti­tude of de­tail right then win­ning feels in your hands.

What we all know is that there will soon be 12 hope­ful Foot­ball League Clubs. Be­fore you know it there will just be six. And in the blink of an eye, three will win pro­mo­tion. Those three will get a lot of things right.

The nine oth­ers will all look back on mis­takes and will be­gin the dread­ful jour­ney to­wards be­gin­ning the new sea­son in the same di­vi­sion.

That is the tough­est propo­si­tion of all; that aw­ful fight to bounce back from fail­ure. BE­ING a foot­ball man­ager keeps a man young. Be­ing sur­rounded by mu­sic, cars, hair­cuts and ban­ter from 20-some­things means get­ting old isn’t an op­tion.

Times have def­i­nitely moved on from the days of the Re­nault Fuego, the sounds of Hair­cut 100 and the 1980s ‘wedge’. But the hu­mour of a dress­ing room never changes. It is ruth­lessly hon­est and bril­liantly cut­ting. You sim­ply can­not af­ford to show a weak­ness or you get cut to shreds. I love it!

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

ATH­LETE: Leeds striker Steve Mori­son

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