PETER CLARKE reckons there are four main ingredients needed for play-off success – but home advantage in the second leg isn’t one of them!
Before last Saturday’s final round of regular fixtures, Town’s skipper told fans not to put too much store by the final League I positions of his side and MK Dons.
And even though the Galpharm team finished a point above their semi-final foes in fourth, and therefore go to stadium:mk tomorrow rather than Tuesday, Clarke is sticking by his theory.
“You can analyse league tables all you like – and believe me I have,” said Clarke, who can rattle off the final positions of all the sides involved alongside Town in the last two play-offs.
“Swindon finished fifth in 2010 and yet still made the final, while Peterborough won the whole thing last season after finishing fourth.
“Go back to 2009, and MK Dons finished third and yet still went out in the semi-finals (to eventual winners Scunthorpe).
“The only certain thing is that to win the play-offs, you have to beat two of the other three sides involved, and that’s our aim.”
Sheffield United and Stevenage contest the other semi, and Clarke continued: “All four sides will fancy their chances.
“Sheffield United will look at the final table and see they finished nine points above us, their closest rivals, and try to use it as a psychological tool.
“Stevenage finished 17 points behind them, yet go into the play-offs with momentum and will believe Sheffield are on a bit of a downer because they didn’t get automatic promotion.
“You're talking about getting through two games to reach a one-off final at Wembley which a huge prize at stake.
“To me, it’s about having character, having nerve and having that little bit of luck which can swing a match.
“The other big factor is your supporters, and I know ours will be there in numbers, both at MK tomorrow and at our place on Tuesday night, and hopefully at Wembley.”
After two 1-1 draws with MK already this season, Clarke is expecting two more tight ties as Town aim to banish painful memories of losing to Millwall in the 2010 semis and Peterborough in last season’s final.
“They’re a good, well-organised side who play decent football, and they’re in the play-offs for a reason,” he said.
“But so are we, and we’ll go there very well prepared and believing we can go all the way.”
While Town supporters will be eager to see the team selection and tactics employed by boss Simon Grayson, who has rung the changes in recent weeks, MK look set to utilise a 4-2-3-1 formation.
David Martin will be in goal, with a back four of long-serving skipper Dean Lewington (left-back), Gary MacKenzie and Shaun Williams in the centre and Adam Chicksen at right-back (he’s normally a left-back but is covering for the injured Matthias Doumbe).
Darren Potter and Stephen Gleeson will play as holding midfielders, and in front of them, boss Karl Robinson, with a question mark against injured Luke Chadwick, is expected to set out a midfield three of Dan Powell on the left, on-loan Newcastle man Alan Smith in the centre and Dean Bowditch on the right.
Former Brentford frontman Charlie MacDonald will lead the line.
Robinson says he’s relishing a second successive appearance in the play-offs.
“I’d back my side against any in this league. Nobody’s going to stop us, we’re going to make sure we put every bit of effort into it,” he said.
“I’ll deal with the pressure, I’ll deal with the adversity and I’ll take that on my shoulders. The players’ job is to perform and play football for the club. That’s the most important thing, that’s what they are paid to do.
“Tomorrow is an opportunity for them to perform at the highest level and show what they can do.”