UNLIKE a year ago, Huddersfield Town are not the favourites to win the League One play-offs and captain Peter Clarke could not be happier.
A quick glance at the odds being offered by a wide range of bookmakers before last night’s first leg between Stevenage and Sheffield United showed the Blades were rated as the team with the best chance of prevailing in the May 26 final.
Town and today’s opponents, Milton Keynes Dons, were then ranked either second or third favourites depending on which firm’s odds were being studied, with Stevenage considered to be the outsiders.
It represents a stark contrast to 12 months ago when Huddersfield travelled to Bournemouth in the semi-final first leg as clear favourites to go up after being pipped to automatic promotion by Southampton on the final day.
Clarke, a veteran of the last two seasons when Town’s hopes of promotion have crashed in the play-offs, said: “Everyone expected Huddersfield to go up in the play-offs. The bookies certainly had us as favourites and that brought more expectation.
“This year, that is not the case. There is a relaxed atmosphere around the place and I think that could help.
“The mood is good and the atmosphere around the place is relaxed. The boys are in good spirits and really looking forward to it.
“It might be down to knowing we were in the play-offs a few weeks ago, I am not sure. Last year, we ran Southampton close and they only guaranteed that last automatic promotion place on the final day.
“This time has been very different. Plus, because of the last couple of years, most of us have a knowledge about the play-offs and that could also help.”
Today’s lunchtime trip to MK Dons will be the third time Clarke has led the side out for an away play-off semi-final.
After a 2-0 defeat at Millwall in 2010 and a 1-1 draw at Bournemouth a year ago, the Terriers captain is obviously hoping to make it third time lucky in claiming a win on the road.
He admits, however, that it will be tough against a team who until the final day of the season had seemed certain to finish above Huddersfield.
Clarke said: “The two legs will be close games. Both teams like to play football and also like to get forward.
“I am sure it will make for a good spectacle but we have to make sure we are on the right end of the result. Usually, the first leg is a tight affair and I can’t see this being any different. Put it this way, I don’t think it will decide the destiny of the tie.
“We must go there and stick to the game plan we have been working on. If we do that, I think we have a fantastic chance.
“It is not necessarily about the performance and it doesn’t have to be pretty. Getting ourselves in one of the play-off spots was what was required once it was clear we couldn’t win automatic promotion.
“From then, it is all about getting to the final and, ultimately, winning promotion. If that is playing free-flowing football and attractive then brilliant. But if it isn’t particularly nice to watch and we win through then that will do for me.”