David Prutton: Losing '˜at the right time' can be of benefit
Pressure in football is a relative concept. Very rarely, and I mean very rarely, is the game a matter of life and death.
It’s important in the way that any sport is but players and managers should never over-egg the industry they’re in.
The only time I ever felt real pressure as a footballer, or what I’d class as real pressure, was when I played for a club who were either on the way to being relegated or very close to going down.
My last move was to Coventry City at a time when they in deep trouble. I was only on loan there but I felt every minute of the experience.
It was a fleeting spell of my career and I won’t get much of a mention in their record books, but retaining our place in League One was a genuine relief.
Previously, I’d been relegated with Southampton and also at Swindon, where I saw what the toxic combination of a poor squad, under-performing individuals and a breakdown in the relationship between players and fans could do.
Considering that I lost a play-off final with Leeds, it’s funny to think how much more relegation hurt.
I suppose it’s the difference between letting people down and failing them in a horribly abject way.
Rob Green has obviously been there himself. I read his comments after Leeds’ win over Bristol City on Tuesday, describing the play-off race as “fun pressure”, and it struck a chord. Promotion has consequences but they are usually, if not always, extremely positive for everyone involved.
There’s a certain fear of missing out on all of that but an excitement too about the possibilities if it happens.
From a selfish perspective, players know that career progression will be helped by being in successful teams.
In a relegation season, so much more is on the line.
The reality of it is that relegation comes at the expense of people’s jobs – and quite often, the people least responsible suffer most.
You’ve got players on thousands of pounds a week dropping out of the league but the kit man goes or the canteen staff go.
Deep down you’re thinking ‘how’s that going to help? And how is it their fault?’.
Rob knows the feeling and it weighs on you. Most footballers have enough self-awareness to realise that their performances are responsible for a lot of the problems.
Compared to that, chasing the play-offs is a different world. Leeds have such a young squad that a lot of their players won’t have seen both sides of the coin and it helps to get some perspective from a keeper like Rob who’s been round the block many, many times.
Yes, there’ll be tension but Leeds should find the run-in fun. There’s expectation at Elland Road but I don’t feel like it’s over the top or unrealistic. It’s like a Ready-Brek glow and it’s at the level it should be considering that Leeds have been in the running for a top-six finish for so long now.
I don’t expect Garry Monk’s message to change, even with so many games played, but you can’t tell me that he isn’t thinking about the play-offs now.
However unexpected it might be, you always get to the point of no return where failure to hit a target would make a manager and his squad kick themselves.
Leeds have probably gone beyond that boundary. Miss out now and it’s going to hurt, as it hurt me and the club in 2008.
Losing the League One play-off final that year is a lasting regret.
At the time I think there was too much emotion spent on getting through that semi-final against Carlisle.
Looking back with an older, more mature head, the final at Wembley was a day when we needed nothing more than to go to the well once more and to dig a result out.
I guess it’s a bit like arriving knackered at the Travelator in Gladiators, which is basically how it felt.
Somehow you have to drag yourself up. And to the disappointment of an awful lot of people, us most of all, we didn’t have the legs.
I saw something similar in the play-off final last year. If the result had come down to numbers and vocal support, Sheffield Wednesday would have been promoted after five minutes.
But Hull did what Hull have done so often in the last few years – turned in a professional performance, found an edge and won when it mattered.
Chasing promotion never lets you relax and maybe Leeds’ defeat to Cardiff last week was a kick up the backside, a reminder that a top-six finish isn’t done and dusted yet.
It’s never nice to lose games. But at the right time, it can do you a favour.
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