YORKSHIRE clubs are no strangers to League One play-off finals being decided on penalties.
Two years ago, Huddersfield Town eventually prevailed after a shoot-out that went on so long it was only decided when Sheffield United’s goalkeeper Steve Simonsen blazed over with the 22nd and final spot-kick.
Like the Terriers, Barnsley, too, have savoured the joy – and relief – of emerging victorious on penalties after silencing hordes of Swansea City fans at the Millennium Stadium in 2006.
Looking at how well matched tomorrow’s two finalists have been across the entire season with only goal difference separating Rotherham United from Leyton Orient in the League One table, few would bet against the promotion decider going all the way to extra-time.
If that proves to be the case, then the Millers may well join Huddersfield, Barnsley and the Blades in having their promotion fate decided in the most nerve-jangling of manners.
And if that, indeed, is how the 2014 final is to be settled then Rotherham will have one very useful secret weapon. Namely, Adam Collin, the goalkeeper who has not only won all six of his career shoot-outs but saved a minimum of two penalties each time.
His incredible run started nine years ago when playing for Workington in the Northern Premier League nine years ago against Leeds club, Farsley Celtic, and includes the vanquishing of another rather more famous Yorkshire opponent in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
“It is something I am really proud about,” admitted the 29-year-old Cumbrian when speaking to The Yorkshire Post.
“I have been involved in six now, won all six and saved two in each shoot-out.
“Farsley was the game that started off my run of penalty shoot-outs.
“I was at Workington at the time and only young. It was a promotion play-off game, which was massive for everyone.
“It was the same with the Leeds United game (when he was playing for Carlisle United). It was the Northern Area final (in 2010) and there was a massive crowd at Brunton Park. There was so much at stake with Wembley being the prize.
“The atmosphere was incredible that night. I had been in non-League football so never really been involved in anything like that sort of occasion.
“There were 10,000 people there and most of them came on the pitch afterwards because we had won. We got mobbed and it was a fantastic thing to be part of.
“It will stay with me for the rest of my career. I saved the first penalty from Bradley Johnson and that put a lot of pressure on their takers.”
Collin’s most recent shoot-out success came a couple of years ago with Carlisle in the League Cup, his two saves proving crucial in Oldham Athletic being knocked out after two hours had failed to separate the two teams.
Asked about the secret of his success, Collin replied: “I just try and focus so I can read the player taking the penalty. That is all I worry about.
“Though there are little things that can help in a shoot-out, to try and put the opposition off. And I always prefer our team to take the first penalty. If you score, it puts all the pressure on the opposition.”
Collin’s saves to deny Leeds duo Johnson and Shane Lowry – on a night when United manager Simon Grayson complained his penalty takers had been distracted by a Carlisle fan shining a laser pen in their eyes – booked the first of two back-to-back visits to Wembley for Carlisle.
The first ended in disappointment as Southampton lifted the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy with a resounding 4-1 win. The return visit a year later, however, brought redemption in the form of a 1-0 victory over Brentford in the same competition.
Collin plans to use the contrasting experiences of those 2010 and 2011 finals tomorrow when Rotherham take on Leyton Orient with the prize of a place in next season’s Championship at stake.
He said: “Wembley is a totally different atmosphere to anything in the league. The noise, the colour and there are even a couple of flame-throwers. The heat off them is strong.
”The first time we went to Wembley, we went down two days before and did the full tour. That built things up quite a bit and it affected us (against Southampton).
“Obviously, we didn’t have to do that in the second year. We just went down, trained and then had the game on matchday. And we came away with a victory. That is why we have to treat the play-off final as much like a league game as we can.
“Play the game and not the occasion. It is a big stadium but that has to be put to one side.”
Victory would complete a remarkable year for the 29-year-old goalkeeper, who joined the Millers on a free transfer last summer as back-up to Scott Shearer.
He then had to wait until October 8 for his first start and then it was in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy victory over York City. Two weeks later, a first league start followed and he has since played every minute of every Millers game.
“I came here wanting to be in the team but realised I would have to work hard,” said Collin, whose 42 appearances for Rotherham have yielded 23 victories and just seven defeats.
“The manager wanted me to give Shears good competition and I think that is what I did. I’d had four years in League One and this has been my fifth year overall. Plus, I had been No 1 goalkeeper and that is how I saw myself when I arrived.”
As prestigious as the Wembley finals against Southampton, watched by a crowd of 73,476, and Brentford were, tomorrow’s meeting with Leyton Orient is on another level entirely due to the size of the prize at stake.
Collin said: “This will be the biggest game of my career. I have always said I want to play at the highest level I can and this will give me an opportunity to get up to that next level.
“Our training has been good. We have kept it as normal as possible, which isn’t easy with the game not being until Sunday. But somehow we have managed that and now we can’t wait for the game to get under way.
“The season has been good. After losing to Coventry at home (on New Year’s Day), we then went on a long unbeaten run and I think that was what set us up for the season we have had.
“We were poor that day against Coventry. But since then we have been very consistent and that is what you need to get up the table.
“The final will be close. The play-offs have been like that, with not a lot between all four teams.
Orient led the way for a lot of the season before then falling away near the end. We both beat each other in the season so it is going to be a real tight affair.
“The good thing from our point of view is we have been solid and hard to beat. We have scored a lot of goals but in the times when we had to dig in, such as Peterborough away (when the Millers won 1-0), we have done that. We have had to fight and scrap, and we have never given up. Just look at the last minute goals we have scored. We fight all the way to the end and Sunday will be no different.”