Play-off run matches dizzy heights of McDermott’s European success

AS a three-time European Cup winner, Terry McDermott clearly knows a thing or two about coping with the pressure of the big occasion.

Whether it was Rome’s Olympic Stadium, Wembley or the Parc des Princes in Paris, the England international was calmness personified as Liverpool claimed a hat-trick of successes in club football’s showpiece match.

In the first of those triumphs, the 1977 final that saw Borussia Monchengladbach beaten 3-1 in the Italian capital, he even opened the scoring to underline his liking for the big stage.

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Tomorrow, McDermott will be back in the limelight as Huddersfield Town, where he is assistant to Lee Clark, meet Peterborough United at Old Trafford in the League One play-off final.

The prize at stake may not be quite as illustrious as it was when the Liverpool-born midfielder was helping Bob Paisley’s Reds sweep all before them in Europe. But, to McDermott, a place in the Championship is equally as important.

So much so, in fact, that the 58-year-old has already marked down Town’s penalty shoot-out victory over Bournemouth in the play-off semi-finals as being on a par with any of his previous successes.

“I have been lucky in my career,” said the former England international when talking to the Yorkshire Post while sitting in an otherwise empty main stand at the Galpharm Stadium earlier this week.

“I played in some massive games for Liverpool and my country, and I was also involved in some fantastic times at Newcastle as a player and a coach.

“But that game against Bournemouth certainly matched any of those. Just thinking about the atmosphere that night makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

“I had phone calls from so many people afterwards, all telling me what a fantastic game it had been. Kenny Dalglish, Nicky Butt and Alan Shearer all couldn’t believe how end-to-end it had been. They all said they couldn’t take their eyes off the television.”

Since that dramatic shoot-out victory over Bournemouth, Huddersfield has been awash with play-off fever. More than 30,000 Terriers fans are set to head over the Pennines tomorrow in the hope that Clark’s men can finish the job by beating Peterborough to end the club’s 10-year absence from the second tier.

With such a huge prize up for grabs, the pressure will undoubtedly be on both sets of players. Last year, of course, Town froze in the play-offs when a below-par performance in the semi-final second leg at Millwall allowed the Londoners to clinch a 2-0 aggregate victory.

Clark’s response was to target proven experience, hence the arrival of signings such as Kevin Kilbane, Ian Bennett, Jamie McCombe, Gary Naysmith, Joey Gudjonsson and Alan Lee over the past 12 months.

To varying degrees, all have played their part this term in helping Huddersfield finish the regular season in third place on 87 points – a tally that, in eight of the last 10 seasons, would have been enough to clinch automatic promotion.

Come 3pm tomorrow, however, this and the eight-point advantage the Terriers boasted over Peterborough after 46 games, will count for nothing.

Instead, it will be who handles the pressure of the big occasion the best and that is where McDermott, a veteran of 25 internationals and around 600 career appearances, could prove vital.

“The key in a big game like this is to play it like any normal game,” said McDermott. “The only difference is there will be a lot more people than usual watching, both in the stadium and on television.

“We have been treating it like a normal game all week. Peterborough headed over to Manchester on the Thursday, which is their perogative of course.

“But we are not leaving until Sunday morning. That is what we would do if it was a normal league game at Old Trafford. Or if we were at somewhere like Tranmere Rovers.

“We would go on the day of the game, so that is what we are going to do. This is an ordinary match and we can’t forget that. It is what we did at Liverpool.

“We never did anything different, whether it was Bury we were playing or Barcelona. We treated everyone the same and we didn’t do too bad, did we?”

As understatements go, of course, McDermott’s description of the eight years he spent at Anfield from 1974 is off the scale.

For the record, his medal collection with the Reds included six league titles, one UEFA Cup, three League Cups and a European Super Cup as well as those never-to-be-forgotten European Cup triumphs of 1977, 1978 and 1981.

Such an impressive haul means he has a special insight into not only how the Town players will be feeling ahead of their own big game this weekend but also those of Manchester United and Barcelona ahead of tonight’s Champions League final.

For McDermott, the meeting of Europe’s two dominant powers will evoke memories of his own career – and particularly the second of Liverpool’s three European Cup successes when Bruges were beaten 1-0 at Wembley.

He said: “London was full of Liverpool fans that night, which was a positive for us. I have seen a few people suggest Manchester United playing in their own country might add more pressure but how can it?

“They will have their own fans there so it must help. The Manchester United fans will be on a high and getting right behind their team. An occasion like this in England is to be cherished, not frightened of.

“That should be the only similarity to the night we won at Wembley, though. The 1978 final was a poor one as Bruges came for a 0-0 draw. They didn’t want to play so we spent 90 minutes trying to break them down.

“The non-English team won’t be doing that this time, I am sure. If anything, it will be Manchester United trying to contain Barcelona. It should be a great final with two great teams fighting it out but I can’t really pick a winner, which is probably how the neutrals will feel about our game against Peterborough.”

With Town having drawn and lost to Posh already this term but finished comfortably above them in the League One table, picking a winner is, indeed, difficult. Who knows, maybe tomorrow’s final will even be decided by penalties?

If it does, then we may well see a re-run of a week last Wednesday when manager Clark and chairman Dean Hoyle opted to watch the shoot-out on television.

McDermott said: “I had an idea Lee might do something like that. He had mentioned it before the game but I wasn’t sure until I looked round after we had picked the penalty takers and Lee wasn’t there.

“A chat we’d had with Gary Birtles the previous week had stuck in Lee’s mind. Gary had been telling us stories about Brian Clough and, apparently, when a game ever went to penalties, Brian would head to a darkened room rather than stay to watch – his reasoning being he couldn’t do anything about it.

“So, he would be sitting there in a room with the lights turned off waiting for Peter Taylor or whoever to come in.

“Seeing that Lee wasn’t there, I decided to also head inside – I am a bit of a coward, as well! I went into Lee’s office but someone was sitting there with his back to me.

“He had a coat over his head so I didn’t have a clue who it was until he turned round. It was the chairman. I didn’t want to watch it in there so I opted for a monitor in the laundry room, which is right next to the manager’s office.

“The monitor belonged to Sky so what I was watching was instant, in real time. Whereas the manager and chairman were watching on tv, which has a few seconds’ delay.

“So, when the first Bournemouth lad missed, I burst straight into Lee’s office to say, ‘One down!’ But they wouldn’t believe me and just pointed at the TV, saying ‘He hasn’t taken it yet’.

“Then, obviously, he did miss and they celebrated. It was comical. We repeated this after every penalty, right up until Antony Kay’s penalty. I couldn’t watch, even on the monitor. So, I just listened for the crowd’s reaction.

“After what seemed like an age, I heard this great big cheer so raced into Lee’s office to say we’d done it. But, even then, they wouldn’t believe me until the delayed footage showed Antony’s penalty going in. And then they both went demented.

“Within two or three seconds, they had both set off racing down the corridor towards the pitch only for the chairman to go flying. I followed at a more sedate pace – I’m not as young as I was.”