PLAY-OFF MISERY CAN GIVE GRAHAM AN EDGE
WHEN it is put to Graham Alexander that he lost a few play-off matches in his playing days, the Fleetwood boss raises his eyebrows.
“A few?” he deadpans.“Yeah… just the six. When you’ve played for Preston, you know a thing or two about losing in the play-offs.”
This week, of course, North End lost for the ninth time in the play-offs, going down 4-2 on aggregate to Rotherham.
Alexander – only the second outfield player in English history to have made 1,000 appearances – was there for four of them, twice missing out in the final itself.
He also tasted end-of-season heartbreak at Luton and Scunthorpe, where his now legendary penalty skills let him down in a vital shoot-out.
The hoodoo finally came to an end when Alexander, by then 37, led Burnley to the Premier League in 2009. Now, as a manager, he stands on the brink of League One with Fleetwood.
So will all of those experiences inform his approach to next Monday’s showdown against Burton?
“Of course,” he says. “They’re all I’ve got. When you go into management as a novice coach, the only thing you’ve known is your playing days. It’s all you’ve got to fall back on.
“Over the last two weeks, I’ve tried to use my experience of these situations. And I’ll try to use it again in the final. But you can only do so much from the sidelines.
“Yes, those play-off defeats are sore experiences because you want to win. But I’d go through them all again.
“You learn from each one as you go along. They’ve been at different levels, in different situations.
“By the time I finally got to the one with Burnley, I’d thought quite a lot about what had gone wrong and how we should prepare as a team.
“Then, I could only look after myself. Now I’m a manager I can take control and do things the way I want.
“But whatever you do, you still have to turn up mentally. And what I’ve learned is that they’re only great occasions if you win. That’s what I’ll be telling the players.”
With so many matches under his belt, it’ shouldn’t come as a shock that Alexander has sampled so many of football’s biggest occasions.
More surprising is the fact that his experienced striker Iain Hume – a veteran of 466 Football League games for the likes of Tranmere, Leicester, Barnsley and indeed Preston – hasn’t ever been to Wembley.
“No, never,” admits the 30-year-old, who joined Fleetwood in March following his release by Doncaster.
“I was in the squad when Tranmere played Leicester in 1999-00, at the old Wembley. But I missed out, so I was basically there as a fan.
“I’ve never been at the new Wembley, not even to watch a game so I’m absolutely buzzing for it.
“I’ve been playing lower league football all my life and it isn’t often you get the chance to play there.”