DONCASTER ROVERS manager Grant McCann is backing his side to firmly embrace their status as play-off underdogs in tonight’s League One semi-final second leg at Charlton Athletic – as they plan to spoil the hosts’ party in front of a sell-out crowd.
The Addicks, who hold a 2-1 advantage from Sunday’s first leg at the Keepmoat Stadium, will be backed by their largest home following at The Valley since 2012 this evening, with over 24,000 Charlton fans in attendance.
Despite his side being heavily outnumbered in the support stakes, McCann has given short shrift to the notion of Charlton’s fan-power giving them an additional psychological advantage –and with good reason.
In his playing days, the Rovers chief captained a Peterborough United side to play-off glory at the expense of Huddersfield Town at Old Trafford in 2010-11 – when Terriers supporters made up the vast majority of the attendance.
It was a similar scenario during McCann’s promotion via the end-of-season lottery with Scunthorpe United in 2008-09 and Cheltenham Town in 2005-06 – and he is relishing upsetting the odds once more.
McCann, whose side finished 15 points behind Charlton in the regular League One season, said: “I have always had that in my career and been the underdog.
We need to win to get to Wembley and it would be an unbelievable occasion if we did it.Grant McCann
“Huddersfield had an huge following against Peterborough at Old Trafford, as Millwall did at Wembley (against Scunthorpe) and Grimsby had a bigger following than us when I was at Cheltenham at the Millennium (Stadium).
“The fans are brilliant and can help you. But it is the 11 on the pitch who win you the game and we have got to make sure that our 11 are better than theirs.
“I think I have got a really good group who can handle things like that. They love the big occasion and the big atmospheres as well and the young boys play with no fear and with freedom.
“We are hoping that they do that again on Friday.”
The pressure may be firmly on Charlton this evening with the Londoners seeking to end their three-season exile from the second tier, but McCann admits that he and his players are also fully aware of the stakes being high for Rovers, flying the play-off flag for Yorkshire following Leeds United’s semi-final elimination at the hands of Derby County on Wednesday night.
Promotion via a play-off final at Wembley would not just increase the kudos and profile of the club, but also have positive financial ramifications for his squad and would represent a ‘life-changing’ moment in his view.
McCann, who has confirmed that his players have practiced penalties in the event of the tie being decided by a shoot-out tonight, added: “We are two wins away from playing in the Championship and two wins away from changing their lives, really.
“Everything from financially to career-wise, it changes every perspective of every player’s life in that changing room and I think they have sensed that this week.
“We need to win to get to Wembley and it would be an unbelievable occasion if we did it.”
For Doncaster to make it through to the League One showpiece at the home of football on Sunday week, McCann is under no illusions that his players must produce a special performance against an Addicks side who have lost just once in their last 16 matches – and won eight of their last nine games.
The hosts also boast near-impregnable form at The Valley, where their last league defeat arrived on October 6.
That said, Rovers have the morale-boasting fillip of knowing that they were the last away team to triumph in a competitive fixture at Charlton – a 2-0 win in the FA Cup at the start of December.
Since then, Lee Bowyer’s side have not been beaten in 13 games and are aiming for a seventh successive home victory this evening.
Home supporters have been advised to arrive early this evening due to the bumper crowd, with the sense of expectation high at SE7.
McCann said: “It is a massive occasion and a big, big game for them. Watching the play-off games, I saw the atmosphere in the matches like at West Brom and it is huge and it is what you want to be involved in.
“I wish I was 10 years younger, to be honest. It would be brilliant. The game is live on Sky and no-one fancies us. We are 2-1 down and playing against a team who have not been beaten for a long time at home and they are confident and have their tails up.
“It is backs against the wall for us and we have got to make sure we approach the game in the way we know we can with a no-fear approach and we will see how we go.
“The last thing that we want to do is have any regrets. We do not want to look back at this game and go: ‘We should have been braver there, we should have done this and that.’
“We have to make sure that if it does not happen, then we have given everything and done it our way.
“If it does happen for us, then I will be pleased.”