”We beat Wycombe 6-0 here and they were so fearful of us down at their place they played for a draw at home which was interesting.” The words of Stockport County boss, Jim Gannnon, as he speaks ahead of this week-ends League Two play-off clash with Wycombe Wanderers.
You can imagine that Wanderers boss Paul Lambert will be pinning that one up, in the home dressing room, on Sunday. ‘They were so fearful’. Lambert shouldn’t have to say too much to fire his team up. Being seen to be ‘fearful’, should be sufficient motivation for the Chairboys.
At play-off time, managers are seeking any kind of edge, to create additional focus and motivation for tired players. And it’s also a time when managers and players can make mistakes. Say the wrong thing; get caught up in the euphoria of it all; understate the importance of the three game mini-season.
For example, in 1996, fresh from a two goal opening leg victory at Valley Parade, Blackpool printed travel details to Wembley, in their programme for the return leg. Messrs. Kamara and Megson, seized the opportunity, to motivate Bradford City to a memorable three goal victory.
In the 2001 League Two play-off final at the Millennium Stadium, Orient manager Tommy Taylor, tried to play down the significance of the game, by having his team travel down to Cardiff, on the day of the game.
They arrived in the capital, dressed in track-suits, as if straight from the training ground. Significantly, they ran out of steam in their final defeat, half-way through the second-half. Taylor’s preparation had not taken into account, the effect the final would have on players nervous energy.
This wasn’t just another game. It was another game ‘plus’. The ‘plus’ being, playing in front of 50,000 people; meeting dignitaries; singing the national anthem; a large media presence; playing in a new stadium etc. All factors which players need to be ready for. The ‘another game’ theory is fine. But the sub-conscious mind of the player, will simply not believe it. And the preparation, must take all these influences into account.
Yeovil made the mistake of over-celebrating, in last years play-off semi-final defeat of Nottingham Forest. The Glovers were so euphoric after their amazing victory at the City Ground, that they dispensed emotional energy to their fans, at the final whistle, like drunken sailors.
No wonder they were so flat in their 2007 League One final defeat. Emotionally they were spent. Better to simply, acknowledge the fans, and get back to the dressing-room. For there is work left to be done.
Jim Gannon won’t know the full effects of his comments, until the completion of the second leg against Wycombe. But he will be hoping, that he has not said too much, too soon.