Last year, all roads led to the white island, writes James Shield. Twelve months and one transfer later, Darryl Westlake now hopes they head towards Wembley instead.
“I watched the lads in the previous play-off final against Huddersfield,” the Sheffield United defender said. “I was on holiday in Ibiza and they were showing all the matches on television.
“I followed them all because I’m a footballer and a football fan. So you always want to keep a track of what’s going on.
“I wasn’t with United at the time - that came about soon after - but I can remember looking at the screen thinking ‘I wouldn’t mind being a part of that.’
“Okay, we wanted to go straight up this term. But we’ve still got a massive opportunity to do it and it’s an opportunity we want to take.
“They are pressure events but every occasion that’s worth being involved in comes with pressure. So we should look forward to them and enter them with a positive frame of mind.
“But there’s going to be a lot of hard work to do before we can start thinking of the final. We’ve got try and take care of that first.”
Westlake was still plying his trade with Walsall when United, having beaten Stevenage at the semi-final stage, suffered a gut-wrenching defeat in the showpiece event on last season’s League One calendar.
Having moved to Bramall Lane soon after his return from the Mediterranean, he hopes to enjoy a leading role in this term’s drama rather than watching it unfold from afar.
United, whose hopes of automatic promotion were shattered at Portsmouth six days ago, will discover which team stands between them and a return to London following tomorrow’s visit of Preston North End.
The South Yorkshire club’s miserable record in play-off competition - six appearances and six failures - has prompted many to claim they are destined for yet more capital punishment.
But with only five members of the squad which faced Crewe Alexandra in midweek veterans of that meeting with Simon Grayson’s side, Westlake is adamant past failures will not overshadow United’s latest attempt. The recent appointment of manager Chris Morgan and his assistant David Unsworth also fills him with confidence.
“Training is much more intense,” Westlake, signed by Morgan’s predecessor Danny Wilson, said. “They’ve both really enthusiastic and positive about this club. You can see it means so much to both of them and that inspires everyone else so we want to do it for them as much as ourselves.”
“What happened in the play-offs last year doesn’t count for anything now,” Westlake added. “These are different games and different challenges.
“The only time what happened in the past will become an issue is if you dwell on things.”
Grayson, who parted company with Town 48 weeks after leading them into the Championship, took charge of North End when Graham Westley was sacked in February. Morgan, preparing for his fifth match at the helm, has urged United to end the regular season on a “positive note” following Tuesday evening’s loss at Gresty Road.
With two, possibly three, huge dates looming large on the horizon, they must strike the right balance between putting on a show for their supporters and ensuring they are in the best possible shape for next month’s semi-finals.
“We want to finish well,” Westlake, who made his first start since January against Crewe said. “Then start focusing on what’s ahead.”