Birthday boy Scott Laird says blowing out his candles could be a good omen for Preston North End going into their play-off clash against Rotherham this evening.
PNE’s left-back is 26 today and hopes to celebrate with a victory in the second leg at the New York Stadium (7.45pm).
Just once has Laird played before on his birthday – and he enjoyed that one.
Three years ago on this day he was in the Stevenage side which beat Accrington Stanley in the League Two play-off semi-final first leg.
So another birthday victory tonight would certainly help the celebrations go with a swing.
Laird said: “I don’t play too often on my birthday because usually the season is winding up by this time.
“But I was on the winning side for Stevenage in the League Two play-offs – we beat Accrington 2-0 at home.
“We went on to reach the final at Old Trafford and beat Torquay. It would be nice to get a repeat of that scoreline tonight.
“I have played in eight or nine play-off games and that year was my best experience.
“The final was moved to Old Trafford because Wembley had the Champions League final. I have experienced both sides of the play-offs, won and lost them. Stevenage reached the Conference play-offs and got beaten in the semi-final by Cambridge.
“Then there was the League Two victory in 2011, and the following year just before I came here, Stevenage got to the League One semi-finals and lost to Sheffield United.
“So I’ve been a winner and a loser – winning a play-off is an unbelievable feeling, losing is horrendous.
“When you win, the summer flies by and you are raring to go for the following season.
“If you lose, it can hang over you for the summer and the holidays seem to drag.”
North End head to South Yorkshire level pegging with Rotherham following their 1-1 draw at Deepdale last Saturday.
In the first half especially, they struggled against the Millers, with Laird admitting a far better performance will be required tonight if North End are to set up a Wembley date with Leyton Orient on May 25.
Laird said: “People say that the play-offs are just normal games but they aren’t.
“You cannot get away from the fact that they are huge games which can change your life. If you win the play-offs you get the chance to test yourself at the next level.
“We know it is going to be a tough game against a very good Rotherham side – they proved that at our place.
“But we know that we were very poor in the first leg on Saturday and we can only get better. Rotherham are going to be in for a tougher game than they got at Deepdale.
“We have had three draws with them and each time they have played a counter-attack style, so it would be naive of us to think that they will play a different way this time.
“What we need to do is to retain the ball better than we did on Saturday.
“In the second half we started to do that a bit better after getting ourselves dragged into playing the longer ball in the first half.
“We didn’t play to our strengths of getting the ball out to our wide players or into the feet of the strikers.
“If we improve on that we will cause Rotherham a lot more problems.
“For a game like this I think we have a good blend in the squad – lads such as myself who have experienced the play-offs and those going in there for the first time without any hint of fear.
“It is winner takes all tonight – one team goes to Wembley and the loser goes home.”
North End enter the second leg on equal footing thanks to Joe Garner’s first-leg stunner.
His spectacular chest down, flick and volley early in the second half brought them level after Alex Revell had given the Millers a 20th-minute lead.
Laird cannot speak highly enough of his team-mate’s strike, nor his contribution of 24 goals to the PNE cause this season.
“It was one of those goals when you thought, ‘Did that just happen?’ and it was a pleasure to be on the same pitch when it went in,” Laird said.
“The following day on TV before the Premier League games, the commentators and pundits were all talking about Joe’s goal.
“It was class and I have been saying ever since Joe arrived here that he had class.
“He didn’t start on fire and didn’t have the rub of the green to begin with. But I always maintained my faith in him that he would come good.
“I told people that if Joe got a run of games he would come good and we have seen that happen.
“He has been remarkable for us this season, scoring so many vital goals.”
The prospect of penalties tonight cannot be ruled out to settle the semi-final.
Nothing has separated PNE and Rotherham to date this season, with extra time and penalties something which has to form part of the planning.
Said Laird: “We need to be prepared for going beyond 90 minutes if the game turns out that way. Hopefully we can settle it in 90 minutes but we will see what happens.
“If it was to go all the way to penalties then we have some very cool and collected lads in the squad to take penalties.
“I was the penalty taker in my Stevenage days so my hand would go up to take one if it went to a shootout.
“Throughout the season we have practised penalties but it is a lot different sticking them away in training than it is taking one in front of thousands of people.
“It is hard to replicate them but we will do our best.”