“It’s a lottery now. We’re in the semi-finals of a cup”. The words of Hull City manager Phil Brown, as his team prepare to face Watford in the Championship play-offs.
It’s become something of a cliche, amongst players and managers, to describe the play-offs as a lottery. As if footballing matters are completely out of their hands. That the football gods are about to influence proceedings, in an arbitrary way.
In a way, this may be a strategy, designed to cushion the blow of a play-off exit. To lower fans expectations. To say, look, any one of four can go up. It may be us. It may not be. Lets wait and see.
But we only have to look at examples from last season’s play-offs to see that the lottery theory doesn’t always hold up. Blackpool came into the League One play-offs, on the back of seven straight wins. Including putting six past Swansea at the Liberty Stadium.
They went to Wembley, via victory over Oldham Athletic, full of belief and confidence. Simon Grayson’s team had no doubt they would be promoted. And so it proved. They had the critical momentum, that can propel teams through these last three games.
Bristol Rovers also had the play-off X factor in League Two. Their thrashing of Lincoln, in the semi-final at Sincil Bank, showed them to be a League One team in-waiting.
Some teams look as if they are running on empty in the play-offs. And they probably are. They have given their all, over the season, and have nothing left to give. They are trying. But the well has run dry.
The play-offs are not a lottery. They are won by the teams, who are best prepared physically, mentally and emotionally. Who go into the three game mini-season, believing that their destiny is totally in their own hands. Not assumptive. Simply with a supreme confidence in their own ability.
If Phil Brown is being cagey, it is because experience reminds him of the pain of the play-offs. After all, he lost his job at Blackpool in 1996, after semi-final defeat to Bradford City. But inwardly, he should be alerting his players, to all the good things they have done this year, to become the third best team in the Championship.
He needs to refresh their minds and sharpen their focus. For, decisiveness will hold sway over hope, in this end of season quest for glory.