Exclusive John Welsh column

I can't wait for Sunday

I can't wait for Sunday

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The beard is ‘hair’ to stay...well, that is for the time being!

A lot of people have been asking me about my facial hair, which is getting pretty long now.

Most Preston fans will know that I can often be seen at various stages during the season either clean shaven or with a full-on beard.

Most of the time there is no superstition involved when I grow a beard – it’s usually because I cannot be bothered to have a shave.

But I must admit there is a little bit of superstition behind my current facial hair.

I remember last season before we played Rotherham in the play-off semi-final first leg at Deepdale, I had a shave and looked what happened – we lost.

So this year I decided to lock my razor away in the bathroom cabinet before we played Chesterfield in the play-offs.

Fortunately, it proved to be a lucky omen as we went on to beat the Spireites 4-0 on aggregate over the two legs.

Unless I have a big change of heart between now and the final, it is likely I will be keeping the look for my first ever appearance at Wembley on Sunday, when we take on Swindon Town in the final.

It will be stuff that dreams are made of when I walk out at the ‘Home of Football’.

Selection permitting, I will fulfil a personal ambition of mine by setting foot on the hallowed turf of one of the most iconic sporting stadiums in the world.

Every young kid who runs around playing football will dream of one day playing at Wembley – and I was no different as a youngster.

I am 31 now and you always wonder whether you will ever get the opportunity to play there. Many professionals go through their entire career without getting to Wembley.

The nearest I have got in the past was when I was part of the Hull City squad which got promoted to the Premier League via the play-offs in 2008 under former PNE boss Phil Brown.

Unfortunately, I did not make the matchday squad on that occasion, but I was there supporting the Hull lads as they beat Bristol City 1-0 thanks to Dean Windass’s goal.

I am sure I speak for every one of the lads when I say we would prefer to be on our holidays now with promotion to the Championship done and dusted.

It was a bitter pill to swallow when we lost away at Colchester and miss out on automatic promotion on the final day of the season.

But what a difference a week makes! I went from feeling the lowest I have ever felt on a football pitch to the highest I’ve ever felt just seven days later when we beat Chesterfield 3-0 at Deepdale in the second leg to book our place at Wembley.

While that was great, I think the 1-0 win over Paul Cook’s men in the first leg at the Proact Stadium was a very important result for the squad.

It showed that we were able to bounce back quickly so soon after such a massive disappointment.

We had to battle, win tackles and, at times, defend for our lives against a very good home side.

I am sure a lot of Preston fans will disagree, but I thought that was the perfect way the game could have gone.

Chesterfield would have been thinking after our defeat to Colchester that all they needed to do was put us under a bit of pressure and we would have buckled mentally.

In fairness, although we got off to a great start with Jermaine Beckford’s goal, that is exactly what Chesterfield did.

They got at us and for a large part of the match, we were forced back, but the defending was unbelievable.

We were blocking shots, getting last-ditch tackles in and the organisation was top class.

We would have liked to have scored another goal or two, but the way we had to dig in to get the win was the perfect way for us to get over the heartache of what happened at Colchester.

We showed tremendous character to protect the lead and it gave us the belief to produce the performance that we did in the second match.

Winning the return leg emphatically was a great day for the players, the fans and everybody connected with the club. The match was obviously lit up by Jermaine’s two goals – particularly the second one.

As soon as he got past the defender on the halfway line, I knew instinctively what he was going to do.

But even then I still couldn’t believe it when it rocketed into the top corner and I think you could see by the celebrations immediately afterwards that we knew that was it, the win was ours.

Being carried off the pitch on the shoulders of the supporters at the final whistle was an amazing feeling and you could see how much the victory meant to the fans.

You have to love football and all the emotions that it brings.

After our loss to Colchester, I am sure the fans – like the players – were on a real downer.

I imagine they would have been fearing the worst with regards to the play-offs, especially considering the club’s past failures at this stage of the season.

The players are constantly reminded of the fact that the club has yet to win a play-off campaign and have been unsuccessful nine times.

Most of the squad were at the club last season when we lost to Rotherham and I am sure they, like me, do not want to experience that again.

Unlike last year, we have safely negotiated the semi-final stage and now we’re just one win from promotion and breaking the club’s play-off hoodoo.

We have been handed a second chance via the play-offs and we are looking forward to completing the task we have been working towards all season.

The fact that we finished 10 points ahead of Swindon in the final league placings should give us huge confidence when we walk out at Wembley. But we know they finished just one place behind us in the table and will be a major threat to our promotion hopes.