CRAIG MORGAN readily admits he had some dismal days at Preston North End – and if he can contribute to another couple for his old club, he will not be complaining.
The play-off fates have decreed the Rotherham United captain’s first experience of the end-of-season lottery comes against one of his former employers at Deepdale today, with the potential to face another in Peterborough United in a Wembley final in 15 days’ time.
The Welshman left North End in August, 2012, soon linking up with the Millers, with it safe to say that his two seasons in South Yorkshire have been as rewarding as his couple of years in Lancashire were difficult – and at times tortuous.
Bizarre is the word the defender would use to describe his time at Preston, which spanned 25 months and incorporated three managers – Darren Ferguson, Phil Brown and Graham Westley.
It incorporated relegation from the Championship in 2010-11 and a disappointing second season, with the sense of discord and instability contrasting with the stable entity the present-day Preston convey under solid managerial operators in Simon Grayson and Rotherham-born No 2 Glynn Snodin.
Morgan’s time ended with him and five other exiles training away from the first-team at Accrington and Rossendale College in the summer of 2012 and while he has nothing against the club and their fans, he acknowledges it just was not to be. As he hopes it will not be today and on Thursday night for the Lancastrians.
On his time there, Morgan said: “It wasn’t a great time to be at the football club for everyone really. There were some very good players who came in, but it just didn’t work out for them.
“It was one of those weird situations, you can’t put your finger on it. The likes of Graham Alexander, who had missed one penalty in 40 games, missed three on the bounce and things didn’t make sense at the time.
“I think the club were just looking for an answer and it wasn’t coming. It was a really strange situation and bizarre what was happening at the club.
“They had been in the play-offs for a few years and the team just became a bit old and tired and came to an end and had to restart again a bit like Manchester United, but not at the same level.
“I still had some good games there. But when you are in a team that is not winning, the good games are forgotten about.
“Credit to them, they have turned it around as it was in freefall really. Simon Grayson has done a good job.”
Morgan’s experiences at the side he left to join Preston in Posh were decidedly more pleasurable and incorporated back-to-back promotion from League Two to the Championship in 2007-08 and 2008-09, something he is seeking to emulate with the Millers.
Former Rotherham chief Ronnie Moore achieved that milestone in 1999-2000 and 2000-01 and if the present-day Millers replicate what the Tivoli idol achieved in the early noughties, then Morgan feels it will top his own achievements with Posh.
That said, he appreciates the challenges which lie ahead for United, with two regular games with Preston failing to separate the pair with this particular two-legged tie having the look of one which could go all the way.
Morgan said: “Going off the previous games, which were two draws, I don’t think there will be much between us.
“But our away form is as good as anyone’s and we certainly don’t fear going there.
“I don’t think you can call it. I actually think our division, out of the three, is the hardest to call in terms of who will win the play-offs.
“Personally, the two seasons at Peterborough were great with two promotions on the bounce and it would be terrific if I could replicate it here.
“Arguably, we were probably expected to do it a little bit more at Peterborough and it would be more of an achievement here, added to the fact that I have captained the team this year.
“It would be great to have this promotion under my belt.
“It would be magnificent and every player’s dream to captain a team at the stage of Wembley. If I can do that, I don’t think there will be any better moments I will have had in my career.”
While Morgan subscribes to the view that the pressure the Millers find themselves under is nothing like as intense as it was last season when they were expected to clinch promotion from League Two, equally he feels they should not consider themselves to be play-off underdogs either.
And why should they after doing the double over runners-up Brentford, giving champions Wolves a run for their money and showing their prowess against the likes of Posh and Leyton Orient?
Morgan insists the Millers can rightly feel confident, without being cocky, given the way they have impressively handled all that has been thrown at them in a thoroughly testing run of games since February and emerged with hardly any scars.
He added: “At the start of the year, I don’t think anyone would have expected us to finish joint third and we were a slight underdog.
“But I certainly don’t think we are an underdog going into the play-offs because everyone who has played us, bar on a few occasions, have said what a tough game they have had.
“Being under the radar has been a good thing as there has never been too much pressure on us. But I don’t see it being a problem now as we’ve handled pressure this year.”