AIDY BOOTHROYD has been here before.
As the Northampton Town manager prepares to take on not only his home-town club but also the team where it all began for him as a schoolboy in the Eighties, the 42-year-old’s mind will perhaps inevitably wander back to the afternoon of May 21, 2006.
Then in charge of Watford, Boothroyd masterminded a 3-0 victory over Leeds United – the club whose coaching staff he had left only 14 months earlier – in the Millennium Stadium to clinch a place in the Premier League.
It was as one-sided a contest as the play-offs have seen and a repeat would do the Bradford-born Cobblers manager very nicely, indeed.
He said: “It is strange having another play-off final against another West Yorkshire team. It is probably a bit strange as well that we will be the underdogs again, despite finishing higher in the table than the team we are playing against.
“We are underdogs against Bradford because of the brilliant things they have done this season. Their exploits in the Capital One Cup were phenomenal. But it is a one-off game, the teams are evenly matched and it is a close one to call.”
Promotion to the Premier League remains the highlight of Boothroyd’s coaching career, which began after his time as a player was brought to a premature end by injury at just 26.
Successful stints in charge of the reserves and youth team at Peterborough United earned a switch to Norwich City in 2001. After impressing in charge of the youth set-up at Carrow Road, he moved to West Bromwich Albion to take on an identical role before being appointed first-team coach at Elland Road in the summer of 2004.
The move to Watford then brought a first taste of management and since leaving Vicarage Road in 2008, Boothroyd has taken charge of Colchester United, Coventry City and Northampton.
Appointed at Sixfields in November, 2011, with Town propping up the entire Football League, he led the club to safety before launching a concerted push for promotion last August.
As recently as March, a place in the top three seemed a possibility only for results to tail off and leave Northampton having to take the play-off route to promotion.
“There are similarities with Watford in 2006,” said the Cobblers manager. “We kept a clean sheet in our last league match and then won the play-offs without conceding a single goal in the three games.
“That has to be the aim on Saturday. We haven’t beaten Bradford this season, but when I went up with Watford we hadn’t beaten Leeds that season and so that is not the most vital factor.
“It is about having players who can deal with the situation. It is pressurised, it is different, it is all-or-nothing – but you want to have days like this.”
Boothroyd’s bow as a professional footballer may have come with Huddersfield Town during the 1989-90 season but it was with home-town club Bradford where his first steps as a player were taken.
He told the Yorkshire Post: “I was at Bradford City as a schoolboy and I used to go to all the club’s home games. I grew up at a time when Bradford City and Leeds United were in the same division.
“I would go to watch Leeds when Bradford were away, but as I was affiliated to Bradford that was always my priority.
“I was there in the dark times when we played at Odsal Top, where it was freezing cold especially in the winter. The first game I saw I think was a win against Liverpool when Bobby Campbell scored (in a 1980 League Cup tie at Valley Parade).
“My era was Stuart McCall, Peter Jackson, John Hendrie – the club has some really good players.”
Northampton, of course, won’t have to face such illustrious names today at Wembley. They will, though, come up against a team who they are yet to beat in four previous meetings this season.
Nahki Wells did the damage in the league by netting in both of City’s 1-0 wins, while in the FA Cup it was penalties that accounted for the Cobblers after 210 minutes of football had been unable to separate the two teams.
Boothroyd said: “It won’t be easy because Bradford are very good attacking team and we have to make sure we do everything we can to stop them.
“But we have got one or two attacking threats of our own that might give them a few problems.”