FORMER Millwall captain Alan Dunne was a team-mate of Neil Harris and several current players in the club’s play-off campaigns in 2009 and 2010.
He spoke exclusively to NewsAtDen this week about his memories of both occasions, and what the current side must do – and not do – to give themselves a chance to win promotion to the Championship.
It's Bradford in the play-offs – how do you see the semi-final tie going?
“Everyone is saying that Bradford are the hardest possible team to play in the play-offs, but if you want to get up the leagues, you have to beat teams like them. On current form, it's going to be a fantastic game – both teams are very similar in how they play and in terms of their strengths. We haven't had a lot of recent success against them, but I'm sure they won't want to play Millwall.”
Lee Gregory's goal made sure of a home second leg in the play-offs – how much of an advantage do you think that will be?
“It definitely is an advantage. It will be a great atmosphere and the players will use that to their advantage – I'm sure it will energise them. Some of them will have the experience of being there before, while some of them will have no experience and it will be their first time. They've got nothing to lose. They're a young squad with quality in all areas and I'm sure Neil and his team will be confident and tactically ready to get a result over the two legs.”
“It's a two-legged game – you don't want to go all out in the first leg and leave yourselves open, you want to be able to come back to The Den in the second leg with something.”
Going back to the two play-off campaigns that you were involved in – how does the mindset change from a regular league game? Did you feel the added pressure of it being the play-offs, with the whole season resting on two (or three) games?
“You know you're only three games away from the prize, which is promotion. You've got to treat it as a mini cup competition. If you win the first two, you're in the final and playing at Wembley in front of 50,000 Millwall fans. The rewards are there and to bounce back after being relegated last year would be a fantastic achievement.”
“The players have got to keep focussed. You've had a whole season and it could be over within a week – you've got to put the work in. You've got to make sure that you do the things that got you there in the first place – don't change anything. Don't change your mindset or anything, because things will change quickly.”
What are your memories from the 2008-09 play-off campaign? You had the ecstasy of winning the semi-final at Leeds, but the agony of losing the final against Scunthorpe – the mood in the dressing room must have been very different after both games?
“To win at Leeds was one the highlights of my career. To get a result up there and advance to Wembley (which had recently been built) was a moment I'll never forget. We went to Wembley for the final, got our suits on, had a tour, but then the game kind of bypassed us.”
“By the time all that had happened, your focus was not on the game. We had our job to do, but we were focussed on everything else around us. The following year, we went there in tracksuits, didn't have the tour and our focus was purely on the game, which we won. Keep focussed on what you have to do and then take it all in and enjoy it afterwards. That's the mistake we made in the first year.”
After losing the final, the club went back the following year and beat Swindon to win promotion. While it seemed like the Scunthorpe tie was treated as a day out in the sun, the final against the Robins was strictly business – is that something that the players and manager echoed?
“It was credit to us to go back the next year and win. Swindon got relegated (in 2010-11), so it shows how good of a job Kenny (Jackett) did to get us into two play-off finals. After the disappointment of losing the first one, we could've just jacked it in and faded off. But we didn't – credit to Kenny for that.”
“To win the play-offs is probably the best way to go up. To go to Wembley and play – it's just a fantastic occasion. You'd go up in any way, but if you could choose and you knew you were going to win them, you'd choose the play-offs.”
*Alan Dunne’s fascinating autobiography Dunne It The Hard Way is available to buy now.