Play-off final heartache can spur Guiseley to glory

Mark Bower
Mark Bower
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IF GUISELEY require a motivational tool ahead of their fifth successive Conference North play-off odyssey, they need only rewind the clock to May 10 last year.

A heart-breaking denouement saw the Lions’ hopes of promotion to the Conference crushed after Altrincham scored a last-gasp goal in the final minute of extra-time in a dramatic 2-1 play-off final victory at Moss Lane.

As defeats go, it was perhaps one of the cruellest imaginable. Guiseley are now desperate to finally get over the line as they embark on another end-of-season lottery, starting at home to AFC Fylde this evening in a first leg semi-final game (7.45pm).

A fair few Lions players have become well-versed on play-off heartache, but manager Mark Bower believes that experience in these pressure situations, however good or bad, might just tip the scales in his side’s favour – for once.

Bower, whose side head over to the north-west for the return leg on Saturday, said: “Some of the players have been in this position for the past three, four and five years.

“We were so close last year in that play-off final and even then, we had a few bodies missing and couldn’t field our strongest side.

“Although that has been and gone, the experience might help us and stand us in good stead and give us that extra determination to try and get over the line.

“That was a timely reminder that if you switch off for a second, it can cost you.

“It was one-all and then we switched off and we don’t want that again. The majority of the players still here were here last year and we desperately want to go one better.

“But, really, when it boils down to it, it’s three games of football and it can go either way.”

After losing out in a frenzied two-horse race for the title with Barrow, opponents Fylde must negotiate three more matches if they are to seal their own promotion dream and pick themselves up psychologically.

The Red Rose side may have finished 15 points ahead of Guiseley, but that will count for nothing when both take to the field at Nethermoor this evening, with Bower confident that if he pick from a strong hand that his side can trouble the visitors, mindful of recent history, too.

Bower said: “If we perform as we can, I will be happy.

“We have beaten the three sides who are all in the play-offs on the last occasion we played them and we have got to take confidence from that.

“You have got to give Fylde a lot of credit for being up there all of the season with Barrow, but it is a different competition now.”

Selection issues have dogged Guiseley all season, but the availability of Gavin Rothery and Jake Lawlor should boost Bower’s options ahead of tonight’s encounter.

Admtting that not fielding a settled side has been a bit of a bugbear, he added: “It’s been frustrating and we probably warranted a few more points than we have got and, with one or two results, we could have ended up higher.

“But with the injuries and consistency of selection, we have not been able to have that and we have missed players for spells such as Danny Hall, Ben Parker and Oli Johnson and we have had lots of niggling injuries. Not getting that consistency in selection has been a frustrating part.”