WITH a record of five triumphs in six play-off semi-finals as a player and manager, Simon Grayson knows a thing or two about what is needed to prevail in the end-of-season promotion deciders.
So, as the Huddersfield Town manager prepares to take his team into battle today at Milton Keynes Dons, he has one message for the players: “Play the game and not the occasion.”
Grayson said: “You have to make sure your build-up is no different and that the game is approached in exactly the same manner as any other.
“The same goes for our shape and what the players do out on the field. They don’t need to try things that they haven’t done all season long.
“We just have to stick to what we are good at doing and believe in what we are doing.
“It might boil down to a mistake by someone or a bit of good fortune.
“But if we stick to our principles, we will have a good opportunity. That is why I will tell the players, ‘Play the game and not the occasion’.”
Grayson’s first appearance in the play-offs came as a player in 1992 with Leicester City who, after knocking out Cambridge United over two legs, lost the Division Two final to Blackburn Rovers at Wembley.
A year later, the Foxes again lost out in the final – this time to Swindon Town after edging out Portsmouth in the semi-finals – before making it third time lucky in 1994 when Grayson captained the club to victory over Derby County at Wembley.
Relegation followed but Grayson was again in the Leicester side that triumphed in the shadow of the Twin Towers in the 1996 play-off final against Crystal Palace.
Then, in management, he led Blackpool to promotion from League One in 2007 before the run of semi-final victories ended two years later when Grayson’s Leeds United lost to Millwall over two legs.
The Huddersfield manager, who is set to restore top scorer Jordan Rhodes to the starting line-up, said: “The first leg can be tight. Down the years, there are not too many where the tie has been over after the first 90 minutes.
“A two-goal lead can disappear quickly. Look at Blackpool against Birmingham. They went (3-0) ahead on aggregate (last Wednesday) but Birmingham came right back into it. Even West Ham v Cardiff could have been different on Monday if Cardiff had got the first goal in the return.
“Experience can help. Players learn from what made them successful in semi-finals and what made them failures.”
The two games of the regular season between Town and the Dons both finished 1-1 and Grayson is predicting another tight affair over two legs, the second of which will take place at the Galpharm Stadium on Tuesday night.
He said: “We will go down to MK Dons and be positive. We are not going there to be negative or to try and nick a draw or anything like that.
“I wasn’t involved in our two games against them this year but I watched them against Carlisle. We have also watched DVDs and they are a good footballing team.
“They do like to play out from the back and through midfield. So, we know what to expect and, on paper, it has the ingredients of a good game.”
Grayson’s debt to Hoyle: Page 2.