PAUL HECKINGBOTTOM has promised to stay resolutely guarded even if Barnsley secure a positive first-leg result against visiting Walsall on Saturday night – and with good reason.
The caretaker head-coach was part of a Reds line-up who famously lost their play-off semi-final first leg against Huddersfield Town a decade ago at Oakwell, only to turn the tables with victory in the return leg in West Yorkshire to book a 3-2 aggregate win – en route to eventual promotion.
Those experiences will temper any exuberance or disappointment if there is a definitive result on Saturday for Heckingbottom.
He, more than anyone, appreciates the need to remain on an even keel and avoid the perils of complacency whatever the result and is minded to take nothing for granted ahead of the second leg at the Banks’s Stadium next Thursday.
Heckingbottom, who does battle with another interim manager in Saddlers boss Jon Whitney, said: “Everyone gave us the points against Colchester and look what happened and everyone wrote us off against Wigan, even though our away form has been fantastic.
“All that happens in the second leg is that both teams know what they need to do, that’s it and that is the only difference and home and away does not matter.”
Heckingbottom has a fair bit of previous in regard to the play-offs and had sampled two back-to-back promotions at this level as a player, with Sheffield Wednesday in 2004-05 and hometown club Barnsley in 2005-06.
The 38-year has also featured in two other play-off campaigns in his career and admits he is an unabashed fan of the end-of-season lottery, even accounting for a tough final loss with Darlington in 1999-2000.
And from his own experiences, he has imparted a fervent belief to his players that they should embrace the whole play-off package and the extra attention that is thrust upon it, with the games being an integral part of the footballing calendar which is relished not just by supporters of the clubs who are involved in it.
Heckingbottom said: “I have done four play-offs on my own and this is my fifth one and I have experienced the lot from losing in a Wembley final to winning two play-off finals.
“I am a massive fan of the play-offs and am trying to get that message across that everyone should enjoy it. The outcome takes care of itself. But we can look after our own performance and how we approach it – and we are determined to approach it in the manner we have done every other big game. If we do that, I am confident we will be okay.
“We are trying hard to embrace the uniqueness of the play-offs and how different they are and we have had a chat about it.
“There is a lot of things different, from the fact that the weather changes and lots of the players’ mates will be done and on their holidays and that brings extra attention.
“Everybody watches the play-offs and knows the prize at stake for the players, club and fans. We are trying to enjoy the experience and more big games and you have to ride it and enjoy it.”