NOBODY need try to tell me about the agony and the ecstasy of the play-offs. I know just how beaten Derby boss Steve McClaren and victorious QPR manager Harry Redknapp will be feeling today, for I have experienced what both men did as QPR substitute Bobby Zamora scored a sensational, 90th minute, winner at Wembley on Saturday.
My Oldham team became the first to lose in the play-offs in 1987 – beaten by Leeds in the semi-final on the now defunct away goals rule – and,12 years later, I was in charge at Manchester City as we won one of the most dramatic matches in Wembley history, beating Gillingham on penalties in the Second Division final, after being 2-0 down going into the 90th minute! I also went on to experience play-off defeat with Ipswich Town.
The cruel irony for McClaren is that, while he was coaching Rangers early in the season, they were playing attacking, expansive football. Then, he left to take over at Derby, who became one of the three best teams in the Championship, along with promoted Leicester and Burnley. Derby were the better side throughout at Wembley, but they just couldn’t get it right in front of goal, where keeper Rob Green had one of his finest days.
Losing in the play-offs is a traumatising experience and it can be hard for the manager and staff to lift the players at the start of the following season. Working on that challenge will be Steve McClaren’s priority over the next couple of months.