Onuora dreaming of final glory

THE fine line betwixt play-off agony and ecstasy is one well walked by veteran striker Iffy Onuora.

A winner and Wembley goalscorer with Gillingham, the 36-year-old has also experienced defeat at the final hurdle with Huddersfield and Sheffield United.

Back for his second spell with Town, Onuora's valuable knowledge of the play-offs could yet prove to be crucial as they chase a place in Division Two.

Manager Peter Jackson may have needed to rely heavily on youth during this most trying of seasons but he knows the value of those older players within his squad.

Steve Yates, Rob Edwards, Efe Sodje, Andy Booth and Onuora will all have a potentially vital role to play, not only on match day but also throughout what promises to be a memorable weekend.

"I don't think you can prepare the younger lads too much," Onuora said. "It will really be down to them and how they cope with it on the day but there will be a few of us around who have been there before and can give advice.

"Both Steve Yates and I went to Cardiff last season with Sheffield United and sat in the stands watching the game. There was a terrific atmosphere throughout and it is great to be a part of that again.

"The best experience I had in the play-offs was with Gillingham when I played in the final at Wembley and won the game. The whole weekend is just a magical experience that you never forget."

That successful season with Gillingham has many similarities with Town as the Kent side were squeezed out of an automatic promotion place on the last day of the campaign only to then battle their way through the play-offs to victory over Wigan beneath the shadow of the twin towers.

Victory was certainly something to savour for Onuora but he knows from experience how painful defeat can prove.

The Blades were dumped 3-0 by Wolves 12 months ago as he watched from the stands but Onuora was a part of the Huddersfield team in 1992 which narrowly missed out on promotion before then losing in the semi-finals against Peterborough.

"Having worked so hard throughout the season, it comes down to that one game and there is so much pressure on you to do the job," he said. "I have experienced both sides of the play-off emotions. I scored in that final – off the knee from four yards out – to make it an even better day for me when Gillingham won. but then I watched the Sheffield United lads last season and could see on their faces how tough it was for them in defeat.

"The play-offs are a great occasion, but only if you win. The final is a one-off match and it could turn on a single goal, a single incident or even one terrible mistake. You don't want to be the one who makes that mistake but the script is always there for somebody to step forward and be a hero on the day."

Plucked from Tranmere Rovers by his former Town team-mate Jackson on transfer deadline day, Onuora's contract runs out after Monday's game and there is every possibility the much-travelled forward could decide to call time on a career which has seen him play a shade over 350 league games for eight different clubs in 15 years.

He will chat to his old friend Jackson and his family before deciding on what to do but he accepts there would be no better way to bow out than by winning on Monday.

"It has been nice to come back to my old club and see some of the younger lads coming through," he said. "Hopefully, my experience has helped them in some ways as well.

"I don't know how long I will carry on playing to be honest. I tend to change my mind depending on how things are going.

"When I get an injury and I am laying there waiting for yet another operation I start to wonder if it is still all worthwhile and whether I should continue abusing my body. When I get back to feeling somewhere close to match-fit though and I have a show-piece final in the offing then I think this is what it should all be about. If every day in football was like how Monday is going to be then people would need to drag me off the field with considerable force but it is not like that and I will need to weigh up my options at the end of the season."

A footballer with a degree in economics from Bradford University and a more than average ability to work in the media, it is unlikely he will struggle to find work once the patched up limbs give up.

He would, however, like to give something back to the game and has already earned his coaching badges in preparation for life behind the scenes.

Victory on Monday, however, may just give him the desire for one more season.

matt.reeder@ypn.co.uk