Dave Seddon's PNE Press View
It was in 1987 that the play-offs were introduced by the Football League, an idea to spice up the promotion race and for the first two years, the battle against relegation too.
Thirty years ago, would anyone have imagined how the end-of-season knockout would grow?
The Championship play-off final is regarded as the biggest one-off game in the world in terms of the financial prize at the end of it.
Every season a different figure gets attached to it – where once it might have been the £20m game, now it is the £100m game because of the riches awaiting at the top table of English football.
I think the play-offs have been a superb addition to the game – quite a statement from a Preston lad who had nine doses of misery before ‘La Decima’ two years ago at Wembley.
It was 28 years ago this week that North End first contested the play-offs.
They played Port Vale over two legs, bowing out 4-2 on aggregate – drawing 1-1 at Deepdale before losing 3-1 in the Potteries.
Those games caught the imagination, more than 14,300 watching the home leg, while the away end at Vale Park three nights later was packed to capacity.
I went home disappointed on a Fishwicks’ coach that night, a feeling which was to repeat itself at Wembley in 1994, at Bury the following year, at Gillingham in 1999, at the Millennium Stadium in 2001 and 2005, at home to Leeds in 2006, at Sheffield United in 2009 and then at Rotherham three years ago.
No wonder the 4-0 win over Swindon at Wembley in 2015 continues to cause PNE fans to break out in a grin from ear to ear.
For a time this season, there was a chance – albeit an outside one – of an 11th play-off appearance.
In February and March, the top six were within reach should a strong run of results be put together.
Alas, the chase lost its legs in April and the play-offs have had to be watched from afar this last couple of weeks.
On Monday, Huddersfield will do battle with Reading for the right to play in the Premier League.
I will hold my hand up and admit it was not the final which I envisaged.
At the end of the regular season, I would have put my hat on a Fulham v Sheffield Wednesday final.
Fulham had been the side to impress me most, both when North End played them and in games I had caught on the television.
Wednesday might have taken four points off PNE but in both games I did not see a great deal from them.
However, their strong form in the closing weeks of the season convinced me that they were bound for Wembley for a second year running.
It is fair comment that Reading and Huddersfield had other ideas and one of them will be celebrating come Monday teatime.
The Royals have been there before, the Terriers yet to experience the top flight in its current guise.
Which way will it go? Who will join the big boys and who has another campaign of Championship football ahead of them?
I see two very similar sides in Huddersfield and Reading, in that both like plenty of possession and to build from the back.
So will it be a case of them cancelling one another out, the key being who can hog the ball better.
From their games against PNE, I saw more of a cutting edge in Huddersfield than I did in Reading.
Neither impressed me at Deepdale, North End beating David Wagner’s men 3-1 and Jaap Stam’s outfit 3-0.
Huddersfield were very vulnerable to crosses when they came here in October, the first two goals from Tom Clarke and Alex Baptiste both headers after they had connected with free-kicks from Paul Gallagher.
It was Gallagher who got the third goal himself with a free-kick from a wide area.
When Reading visited in March, they had a tidy first 20 minutes and then offered nothing. Tom Barkhuizen’s pace – and his finishing – took them apart.
Away from home, Preston lost to both.
On the opening day at the Madejski Stadium, they were so poor for the first half and only slightly improved in the second – Reading’s winning margin should have been greater.
North End weren’t great over in West Yorkshire on Good Friday either.
But the manner of defeat was cruel in that the home side’s penalty so late in the game, should not have been given.
If I had to stick my neck out, I would lean more in the direction of Huddersfield.
Saying that, Reading did not finish third in the table by accident.
On Wednesday night, Manchester United lifted the Europa Cup after a deserved win over Ajax.
The Dutch outfit were outmanoeuvred by United, Jose Mourinho proving again that in a one-off game, he is the king tactician.
Ajax’s team was a young one and while well beaten, how refreshing to see a side built in that way.
How many Premier League clubs would be in a position to play so many academy graduates?
By the age of 21 or 22, some players at top-flight clubs aren’t trusted with anything more than a game in the Checkatrade Trophy let alone a European final.