PNE ace feeling upbeat again

Scott Laird battles for the ball with Chesterfield's Tendayi Darikwa during the play-off semi-final first leg
Scott Laird battles for the ball with Chesterfield's Tendayi Darikwa during the play-off semi-final first leg
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The misery of missing out on automatic promotion is a long and distant memory as far as Preston North End star Scott Laird is concerned.

The 26-year-old defender admits losing to Colchester United on the final day of the normal League One season was one of the lowest points of his football career.

George Moncur’s 81st-minute winner at the Weston Homes Community Stadium – coupled with MK Dons’ 5-1 thrashing of Yeovil Town – meant North End’s hopes of finishing in the top two were ruined in the cruellest of fashions.

But a lot has happened since then.

Two terrific wins over Chesterfield in the play-off semi-finals mean there is a spring in the step of everyone connected with the club once again.

Despair was replaced by delight at Deepdale at the weekend, as North End celebrated winning through to the play-off final against Swindon.

And Laird is hoping to experience those joyous feelings again when the full-time whistle sounds at Wembley on Sunday week.

“That’s how quickly things can change in football,” Laird said.

“We don’t know what really happened or what went wrong at Colchester.

“It’s something we can’t really put our finger on.

“We had gone 18 games unbeaten beforehand and played some good football in that time.

“It was the first time we hadn’t scored in a game since November 4

“I don’t think any of the lads froze on the day.

“You could see that everybody was giving 100% and that’s one thing you can always say about this squad.

“Nobody will never go on that pitch and not be bothered about winning a game of football. But for whatever reason, it just didn’t happen for us on that particular 
day.

“It’s unfortunate that it happened in that game, where so much was riding on it.

“After the game, we aired a lot of things as a team.

“We had a good meeting – everybody said their piece and the overriding feeling was things can change so quickly in football.

“At three or four o’clock last Sunday at Deepdale, there was a totally contrasting feeling among the players and the supporters, when you compare it to what happened the week before.

“But we need to make sure we finish the job off.

“We can’t afford to rest on our laurels and think that we have done well by making the final at Wembley.

“We need to go out and rectify the Colchester result.”

The two wins over Chesterfield were the first time in PNE’s history that they had won both the away and home legs in a play-off semi-final. Jermaine Beckford’s early strike at the Proact Stadium was enough for them to take a slender advantage into the second leg.

Two further goals from Beckford – including a spectacular strike from the halfway line – and a penalty from Joe Garner at Deepdale ensured PNE, in the end, ran out comfortable 4-0 victors on aggregate.

Laird believes those two performance coming so soon after the defeat to Colchester, was a perfect illustration of the squad’s mental strength.

“I thought we did very well in both games against Chesterfield,” Laird said.

“We worked very, very hard at their place. They had a lot of possession and put us under a lot of pressure.

“But we stood up to it well and I think it was us who had the more clear-cut chances.

“When we got them at home, we knew we would have a bit more of the ball and that’s what happened. We scored some great goals and put in a really good performances.

“Jermaine scored two great goals, especially his second, although I think he only hit it from the halfway line because he was too knackered to run any further!”

With the final taking place exactly two weeks after the semi-finals finished, Laird admits the right balance has to be found to ensure the team arrives in London in two weeks’ time at their peak.

“It is a bit weird having such a long break before the final,” Laird said.

“But that’s one of the things about the play-offs.

“You have two games within a few days of each other and then a two-week break before the final.

“You have to make sure you get the preparations right.

“The lads have been quietly going about their business this week.

“Nobody has been getting too ahead of themselves. You have to get the balance right especially when there is a gap between the games.

“You have to make sure that you have your rest days, a fun day and also days where you get a sweat on because you need to keep the fitness levels up.

“But the gaffer is very experienced in these situations.

“He knows what to do in terms of our preparations.”

Despite Preston’s poor record in the play-offs – 
they have yet to succeed in the play-offs in nine attempts – Laird has urged everybody connected with the club to embrace the experience.

On a personal level, the left-back has some fond memories of the play-offs.

He was a member of the Stevenage team which defeated Torquay in the final of the League Two play-off final at Old Trafford in 
2011.

“I just urge everybody to enjoy it,” Laird said. “It’s a great build-up, the week leading up to the final – all the media build-up.

“The play-offs do have a different feel than a normal game. It’s like a mini-cup competition and it’s the team which works the hardest and does whatever it takes who wins the play-offs.”