Time for mind games at business end of season - Sue Smith on Football

I am not sure people realise how big a part mentality plays in football, especially at the business end of the season.

When players rise to the challenge you need to make full use of them. I see that in Leeds United’s Joe Gelhardt.

The difference between having expectation and nothing to lose is huge. Maybe that is why Huddersfield Town are having such a good season, and why Barnsley have given themselves a chance of avoiding relegation from the Championship.

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Driving south on Sunday to cover a Women’s Super League game the tension listening on the radio was bad enough for me. Imagine what it is like for the players? These are things managers need to work on – and even fans have a job to do.

Jack Harrison chases Leeds United team-mate Joe Gelhardt celebrating his late late winner against Norwich City. Picture: Tony Johnson

As players you have to strike a balance between not getting too wrapped up in it and riding the emotions created by fans.

Leeds fans always get behind their team and you could tell the difference it was making. It was the same with Everton‘s win over Newcastle United and although Crystal Palace are not in relegation trouble, their players also ran so hard against Manchester City on Monday because it gives you extra energy.

Gelhardt will scare defenders because he is direct and powerful with a good touch. He will make mistakes but I have thought for ages they should start him up front over Dan James.

You could see as soon as he came on against Norwich City Gelhardt was determined to make an impact, winning a header he had no right to, then busting a gut to score the winner.

That shows he is someone a manager can trust in big games. I was disappointed he did not start or even come on last night.

Even though Huddersfield’s 17-match unbeaten league run ended in midweek, I get the impression they are playing with no fear.

Contrast that with today’s opponents Bournemouth, who manager Scott Parker says are feeling the expectation.

Everyone has been saying for ages Huddersfield would fall away but they have stayed with it.

Very good players will not get promoted just because they are very good. You also need the work ethic Carlos Corberan has instilled. Huddersfield are a well-organised collective. They know they have to be to compete.

At the start of the season a lot of Huddersfield fans would probably have been happy just to stay up but it must be nice watching and being part of those lads fighting for each other.

Not so long ago one of my mates who is a Barnsley fan said, “We’re completely gone,” but they travel to Sheffield United today having only lost two in eight.

He changed his tune when I texted after they beat Middlesbrough to “I still think we’re going down but there’s a bit of hope now!” If even he is starting to feel more positive the players will definitely believe.

It is why sports psychologists are so important. Managers also need a feel for their players.

When a team takes a battering, the next training session is often a real fun one and tactics for the next game can wait. If teams get over-confident and standards slip, you must clamp down.

A few times before a big game I turned up for a team meeting and had a fun quiz instead.

So much is in the mind.