PLAY-OFF MIS­ERY CAN GIVE GRA­HAM AN EDGE

The Football League Paper - - NEWS -

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.”

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