WITH Milton Keynes Dons about to embark on their third tilt at winning promotion via the play-offs in four years, Damien Johnson admits Huddersfield’s recent experience of the promotion deciders may not be such a big factor in the forthcoming semi-finals.
The Terriers are hoping to make it third time lucky this season after losing last year’s final to Peterborough United just 12 months on from being beaten in the semi-finals by Millwall.
Thanks to Saturday’s home win against Yeovil Town, Huddersfield will have home advantage against the Dons in Tuesday’s second leg after travelling to stadium:mk this weekend.
Johnson, who joined Town last summer after spending the 2010-11 season on loan at the Galpharm Stadium, said: “MK Dons have been on a good run and are a good team. They drew 1-1 here earlier in the season so I think we have enough on our plate worrying about these two games.
“Both games will be tough and the advantage will be marginal as to where the first leg is played. Whether home or away, MK Dons play the same way. We have to prepare to make sure we can counter that.
“It is too early to say if last season’s experience will be a help. All I know is there are some experienced lads here who went through the disappointment of last year. MK Dons will be wiser for their experience, too, so it is hard to call.”
Karl Robinson’s side finished last season in fifth place but lost out to Peterborough in the semi-finals to continue a wretched recent run for the Dons in the play-offs.
Not only did the fledgling club also lose out in the 2008-09 League One play-offs to Scunthorpe United, but two years earlier they also crashed out at the semi-final stage to Shrewsbury Town.
For Johnson, his return to the starting line-up in the final two games of the regular season represented a welcome change of fortune after another injury-marred campaign.
Now, however, he is hoping to get the nod in central midfield for Saturday’s semi-final first leg.
He said: “It has been frustrating but I am back fit now and waiting for an opportunity. All the lads who came in have done well and anyone in the team knows there are a lot of players pushing them.
“Training has been really good recently and it is important we carry that into Saturday’s game.”
On travelling to Milton Keynes for the first leg, Johnson added: “I don’t think any of us thought MK Dons would lose at home (to Walsall). We were just concentrating on ending the season on a positive result against Yeovil.
“We didn’t know anything until the end of the game. But the fact they lost means we have the advantage of the first leg away, which is a bonus.”
With Town’s automatic promotion hopes having collapsed over Easter courtesy of two defeats in three days, Simon Grayson’s squad have had plenty of time to prepare mentally for the demands of play-off football.
One of those who knows all about the dejection and despair caused by missing out on promotion at the death is Scott Arfield, who started the final against Peterborough at Old Trafford last May.
He said: “It is massive to have a bit of momentum. At Walsall (on April 28 when Town drew 1-1), we played very well in the first half but the second half wasn’t good enough.
“But I thought our performance against Yeovil was really good and our best for a long while. It gives us momentum.
“We are two games away from Wembley. If we are lucky enough to get there – and we believe we can do it – then that will leave us one match away from the Championship.
“This club and the town deserves to be promoted so that is what we want to do.
“Last season was very disappointing. If we had gone up, it would have been a great day to look back on. It was a disappointing day for us all, but if we can get to the final then, hopefully, it can be different.”
As for whether Town will have any advantage from playing at home against the Dons in the second leg, Arfield added: “I couldn’t have cared less. All I know is we have two games to get there and we believe we are good enough to get there.”
Arfield, in common with the vast majority of the Town squad, was signed by Lee Clark, who lost his job on February 15 after a home defeat to Sheffield United.
The Scottish midfielder is quick to pay tribute to the former Huddersfield manager.
He added: “Lee Clark built this team with some fantastic players. It wasn’t to be in terms of himself but he did a marvellous job. The gaffer came in and steadied the ship.
“He hasn’t done too much different to what Lee Clark established. We have the same aim as at the start of the season and that is to win promotion.”