MARVIN JOHNSON sampled the high stakes of a Championship play-off occasion at relatively close quarters last season.
But it would represent a poor substitute for experiencing the real thing in the colours of Sheffeld United next Spring.
Motivation is not in short supply for the winger following his deadline-day arrival on a season-long loan from Middlesbrough, who secured their place in the 2017-18 end-of-season lottery last May.
The Blades, by contrast, fell away in the final month of last term after being top-six candidates virtually all season.
Johnson will be striving to play an active part in helping his new club go one better this time around.
The ex-Oxford United winger found himself on the periphery on Teesside following the arrival of Tony Pulis as manager last Christmas and made just two brief cameos from the bench under the Welshman in the second half of last season.
I do not think anyone is happy just to sit there and not be involved. If we can do that (reach the top six) and I am a part of that it will be a massive bonus for me.Marvin Johnson
That did not stop Johnson – along with several other Boro squad players including Ashley Fletcher and Lewis Baker – training with the first-team squad on the pitch at Villa Park ahead of Boro’s pivotal semi-final second-leg with Aston Villa.
It was a nice touch to ensure that all of the Teessiders’ squad felt involved in the club’s finale to the season and has whetted Johnson’s appetite for his new challenge in the process.
The winger said: “I think the good thing there was that the boys all stuck together and we had our own little crew in the changing room. You always felt a part of it, whether you were involved or you were not.
“But as a player, you always want to be on the pitch, no matter what position or where you play.
“I do not think anyone is happy just to sit there and not be involved. If we can do that (reach the top six) and I am a part of that it will be a massive bonus for me.”
On his path to Bramall Lane, the 27-year-old added: “From January, I did not have sights on going out on loan at that time. The gaffer did not know me and it was a case of, ‘keep your head down, work hard every single day and show him what you can do’.
“Unfortunately I was not his type of player, but it did not affect me and I kept going until the end of the season and got myself ready for pre-season.
“That is all I could have done, but he made it clear I was not going to play and that I had to go out to play football.
“I want to get back to my best and get back playing.”
Johnson’s move to the Blades was the final registered domestic transfer involving EFL clubs on August 31 and topped off a close season of recruitment about which manager Chris Wilder was entitled to be pleased.
Granted it may not have been quite perfect with a successful move for a marquee forward addition failing to transpire. But, equally, the Blades’ chief is sure that his squad is now much stronger and better equipped than it was last season and supplemented with Championship quality too.
The arrival of ten newcomers, including a number of players who United beat off strong competition to land including Dean Henderson, John Egan, Oliver Norwood and Ben Woodburn, would certainly attest to that.
On whether the Blades are in a better position squad-wise than at the end of last season’s ‘near miss’ campaign, Wilder said: “Yes. That does not mean we are a better team; we have got to go out and prove it. But talent-wise and competition-wise I think we have moved it forward.
“It is amazing how the arrival of five or so new players has driven everyone on.
“That is because we do not have sulkers in the dressing room. We have the right characters. They do not sit there and think, ‘I am not playing’. They do not throw the towel in. They work hard and push to get themselves in.”
Undoubted success stories last season – despite agonisingly just missing out on the top six – both the Blades and their weekend opponents Bristol City are showing evidence of their intent to go one better this time around.
Both have the incentive of recording a fourth successive league win should either prevail in a fascinating clash at Ashton Gate, scene of plenty of emotion from Wilder after his side triumphed 3-2 on the final day of 2017-18 to clinch a top-ten finish.
It was a bittersweet victory for the Blades’ chief, whose future was up in the air amid interest from Sunderland at a time when he was seeking reassurances about his own situation and the club’s long-term ambitions.
Thankfully for the sake of all Unitedities the scenario is rather calmer four months on.
Wilder added: “I do get quite emotional every now and then, you know. A couple of films do it for me. It was a tough period for us all because it was coming to the end of a season which was great in many ways, but did not have the finish we wanted.
“It was a difficult time for me personally, but people who knew me understood I still had work to do here.”