Bradford City boss Phil Parkinson says Wembley will be a pressurised environment when his side take on the Cobblers today (ko 1.30pm) – but nothing compared with the tension the Bantams had to deal with at times last season.
The stakes are high as Parkinson’s battle-hardened troops prepare for a 64th and final call to arms against Northampton for the right to go up.
But Parkinson told the Bradford Telegraph & Argus he would rather have the glare of the play-off spotlight than be facing another scramble to stay up like 12 months ago.
He said: “The real pressure was last year. This is enjoyable and we’ve got to relish the challenge ahead of us like we have done all season.
“Bradford City could have gone out of the Football League last year. The club might have not been in existence – that was quite a pressure!
“And even if the club survived, once you go down to the Conference you know how difficult it is. People would say a club of Bradford’s size shouldn’t be down there but a stadium doesn’t win football matches.
“I said to Mark (Lawn) and Julian (Rhodes), one way to alleviate pressure and nervousness is to get a good side. And we’ve got a good team this year.”
Parkinson has also changed the mindset by assembling a squad full of “leaders” – strong characters with a winning mentality.
“The more potential captains you’ve got in the team, the better chance you have of achieving things. I could give the armband to seven or eight of our starting line-up and wouldn’t be in the least bit concerned.
“We’ve got a never-say-die attitude and we need to show that for one more occasion.
“We’ve had 63 games and four extra-times. But this is the last one – 90 minutes, 120 minutes or however long it takes, there won’t be another.
“We’ve had three extra weeks of the season and we’ve got to make that worthwhile now.”
City trained yesterday afternoon at the FA Centre of Excellence at St George’s Park in Burton – on a pitch with the exact measurements of Wembley.
It’s part of the meticulous preparation that has underpinned their marathon campaign.
The Cobblers players had a walk around the stadium earlier in the week but, having been there in February, Parkinson didn’t feel it was necessary.
“We’re going down to do a job. We both want promotion and a lot of things will fall into place if we do achieve it,” said the Bradford boss.
“If we don’t, we’ve got a squad full of talented players, many of them at a very good age who are only going to get better.
“It won’t be the end of the world but that’s not to detract from how determined we are to finish the season in style.”
City are 11-8 favourites against a side they beat home and away in the league. Northampton have won only one of the last 10 meetings between the sides but history counts for little in the play-off environment.
Parkinson said: “Psychologically it gives us a slight advantage we’ve beaten them but equally we are realists and know those games were very tight. This will be no different.
“There are a few managers in our division who are sat at home enjoying them and they’re the three that have gone up.
“All the others will be watching with envy, wishing they were there. We are there and have worked hard to get to this stage.”