There is no better way to win promotion than via the play-off final – so says Preston left-back Scott Laird.
And he should know, having experienced a whole multitude of emotions in his time as a professional player.
In nine years in the game, the 27-year-old defender has enjoyed a league title success and a play-off victory while wearing Stevenage colours.
He has experienced the other side of the coin too as three failed play-off attempts testifies – the last of which was North End’s defeat to Rotherham United last season.
The former Plymouth Argyle trainee also has first-hand knowledge of the elation – and despair – which can accompany a visit to Wembley.
It was back in 2009 when Laird helped Stevenage – who were managed at the time by former PNE boss Graham Westley – qualify for the Conference National play-offs.
His first taste of the end-of-season lottery was a painful experience in more ways than one.
Boro were eliminated at the semi-final stage by Cambridge United and Laird was red carded, which caused him to miss the FA Trophy final victory over York City at Wembley.
Fortunately for him, his disappointment at missing out on an appearance at the ‘Home of Football’ was shortlived as the season after Boro were back there again.
Having won promotion to the Football League as champions, Boro went into the 2010 Trophy final as clear favourites but were surprisingly beaten 2-1 by Barrow.
The following campaign, Laird was an integral member of the Boro team which reached League One.
After finishing in sixth spot in the table, Laird tasted play-off final success – although the 1-0 win over Torquay United was played out at Old Trafford, home of Manchester United.
Boro’s amazing run continued the following season as the Hertfordshire-based outfit missed out on a third successive promotion, losing narrowly 1-0 on aggregate in the play-off semi-finals to Sheffield United.
It was at the end of that season that Laird rejected fresh terms at Broadhall Way and followed Westley to Deepdale.
It is fair to say his three-year stint in the North West has been just as eventful.
A badly broken leg in his first season wrecked the early part of his spell at PNE, but he has since recovered to play an important role for the club over the previous two years.
The pain of losing in the play-offs last season will not feel too bad if Laird can help Preston to victory – and promotion – on Sunday against Swindon Town at Wembley.
“I’ve been a professional player for seven years now,” Laird said.
“In that time I have won a league, won a play-off final, lost three play-off semi-finals and broken my leg.
“I have also missed a Wembley final, which we won, and played in a Wembley final, which we lost. So it’s been eventful! Like I say, I have played in quite a few play-off campaigns.
“They are brilliant to be involved in. At the start of the season, you always want to win the league or go up automatically. That’s always the aim.
“Obviously, we did not want to go through the play-offs this year being in second spot on the final day of the season, but we’re going to have to do it the hard way.
“The play-offs are the best way to go up – there’s no doubt about that.
“It’s a great way to go up, not just for the players but also the fans, especially if it’s at Wembley underneath the arch. What a way to go up!
“But they are also not very nice if you lose so we’ve got to make sure that we are the winning side on Sunday.”
It will not be easy for Preston to record their first play-off final victory in nine attempts.
Swindon finished directly below North End in the table and were still in with a shout of automatic promotion until the final few weeks of the season.
Many expert judges believe the quality of PNE’s front two of Jermaine Beckford and Joe Garner could prove pivotal against a Robins’ defence, which looked shaky in the 5-5 draw against Sheffield United in the semi-final second leg at the County Ground.
Laird, though, believes that result was one-off and Sunday’s game will be a cagey affair.
“That semi-final was a proper game of football,” he said.
“It was like going back to kids’ days – you attack, we’ll attack...you shoot, we’ll shoot.
“But I think Sunday will be a totally different game.
“That was a freak game and I really can’t see Swindon being involved in another game like that.”