Perfect preparation key to play-off glory
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!
ATHLETE: Leeds striker Steve Morison